Dozens of top-level players gathered for a public event Wednesday morning at the Philadelphia NABC to raise awareness of what they describe as a threat to “the very soul of the game.”
Although well-publicized disciplinary hearings in North America and Europe have resulted in the permanent banning of several top pairs convicted of collusive cheating, some of the accused have turned to civil courts to have their sentences overturned or reduced.
In January, for example, the European Union’s Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the European Bridge League’s ban of Fulvio Fantoni and Claudio Nunes was invalid, a decision that sent shock waves through bridge world.
Recognizing that world, zonal and national bridge federations could be compelled by courts to allow the participation of players who had previously been banned, some players are trying to take matters into their own hands by demanding that these bridge organizations announce in advance who would be invited to their tournaments. This would permit players to avoid participating in events in which those previously convicted planned to play.
The group in Philadelphia created buttons that read “Say No to Cheats,” and posted a petition that was available for anyone to sign. More than a hundred players proudly sported the buttons throughout the day, and roughly an equal number signed the petition, which read in part, “We appreciate the efforts of the national and international federations in dealing with this cancer. We have no doubt they share our common cause. Yet we also see that there are times when their hands are tied by the red tape of bureaucracy and the maze of legal interpretations. Bridge players around the world have a right to decide where to play and against whom. It is for this reason that we ask the organizers of major tournaments for full transparency regarding participants. Concerned players can then make a decision as to whether they wish to withdraw from the event.”
Zia Mahmood, one of the rally organizers, said, “With the expulsion of these players, the feeling at tournaments became so much better because we all knew we were having a fair game. But after the recent events in Europe, a sense of unease has returned. It would be as if someone who came to your home treated you and your family horribly, but after kicking them out, you were somehow forced to invite them back. So this is why we’re doing this: The federations’ hands may be tied, but ours aren’t.”
Fellow rally organizer Boye Brogeland – who also led the initial charge against the collusive cheaters in 2015 – said, “We need a new approach when it comes to cheating. It’s so hard to prove the method by which someone might cheat, but the statistical analysis of unusual results shows us the way. We have to take action early even if we can’t prove it to the smallest detail.
“This is important for the players. I don’t think the organizers know how much the players care about this.”
Howard Weinstein, chair of the ACBL’s Anti-Cheating Commission, said, “The best thing you can do to help with possible cheating cases is to speak up. File those player memos! If you see something, say something. One hand doesn’t prove anything, but patterns can only appear if there’s enough evidence.”