Thursday, 8 March 2007

Barry's Blog 11

There are very many activities going on within the EBU, all intended to drive the organisation forward, and to explain to our members (and non members for that matter) what we are doing and why. I hear the word "communicate" many times a day. It is important to realise that we are doing things, not just talking about doing things as may well have happened in the past.

For example, we have run the first ever survey of EBU members; almost 20% of the membership responded, which is an incredible response. We will be utilising the responses received in many different ways. We will be running another online survey shortly to ask members for some (belated) views on Announcement and Alerts, the Orange Book, and the application of our Best Behaviour policy in clubs as well as in EBU events.

One of the activities that has been running for a long time in the background is the endeavours of one of our hard working, volunteer Board members who has been working, together with other mind sport organisations, for many years to try and get bridge accepted as a sport so that we can get access to government and lottery money and other financial benefits. It now seems that a recent Act passed by parliament means that, very shortly, mind sports clubs will be able to register as charities, giving many financial breaks to clubs in the area of VAT and council tax. When this all springs in to life we will work together with our clubs to ensure that we all benefit as fully as possible.

We were recently at the European Bridge League's seminar for all of the National Bridge Organisations in Europe. At this meeting we received presentations from the more "successful" organisations that have spent the last five years delivering the goods. As a result, the French have a membership of around 135,000 and it is growing and the Dutch has a membership of around 85,000. In Poland, where bridge is virtually the national sport, they get around 400,000 Euros each year from their Government.The Government money is usually forthcoming because of a measure of recognition given to Bridge in their countries that is only given to UK organisations that are recognised by the IOC as Olympic sports. That is why those organisations are flush with cash while we, relatively speaking, struggle. If we can get bridge recognised as a sport by the British Olympic Committee this would open the door to funding from areas such as the Lottery, something that has been available to the Olympic sports for many years.

I have been interested for some time in trying to find a way for the EBU to introduce a national rating system for Bridge players, in order to satisfy the demands of many members, who believe that while master points are fine for measuring  "lifetime achievement" they do not reflect current abilities. Once again, many European bridge organisations are there already with nationwide systems in place that rank their players. We are fortunate in having among our membership people with a variety of top ranking skills, including IT. I am having discussions with one of our members at present that could result in a National Rating System being run alongside the present master point scheme. While most of this is still in the early days of consideration, the basic method of working would be for all results to be fed through interface software, allowing the use of more or less any scoring programs, into rating software which would result in the players rating being adjusted according to the rating of all players at the table. The rating could easily be used for handicapping purposes as well as purely for interest. These updates would be made available overnight. A sub committee of the board is working on development at the moment and while it is far too early to determine exactly how this aspect would work, the current working hypothesis is that it would be a service provided free to EBU affiliated clubs for their EBU members; however in order to provide a ranking for those many players who may not be EBU members, perhaps we can have a strata of membership just to allow rating for the player/member. This group is also addressing membership management, allowing for different types of member in the future (e.g. Single/Household/Rating etc.). I will hopefully be able to expand on this initiative later in the year.

I have been fortunate enough to be invited to a number of clubs around the country where I am able to speak with ordinary members and the clubs officers. In the recent past I visited an unaffiliated club which was very interesting. While the club is unaffiliated, it is much more successful than many of the EBU affiliates nearby, and a number of EBU members play there. A substantial reason why this happens is behaviour, as it is often the case that these clubs are set up as a direct response to being confronted with aggressive experienced players in the affiliated club. The local teacher in this case, has taught, and is teaching hundreds of new bridge players and makes very sure that when they ask which club they should visit, they are guided to a club that will welcome them with open arms, rather than one that will make their first ever visit to a duplicate club their last. Surely there is a lesson to be learned by clubs with dwindling table numbers - speak to your local teaching fraternity and understand why clubs around you are succeeding.

I also visited an affiliated club set up and run by another hugely enthusiastic teacher; while it runs pretty much under the auspices of the EBU, they do not award master points; they seemed very interested in the rating concept so perhaps that may well be the way forward.

Finally, I am off this forthcoming weekend to play in the first "Bracketed Teams" green pointer that has been run in England. In this event, groups of 7 or 8 similarly ranked teams play a round robin format against all of the teams in their bracket. This inaugural event was expected to be of great interest to those many players who have never tried a green pointed event. I am delighted to say that quite a large number of team members registered to play have no green points to their name.

I suppose, following my usual practice, they will have after playing us on Sunday! I hope they enjoy it - I will, win or lose.