Bridge organisation such as the WBF, the EBL and the ACBL are struggling with the issue of nationality as it pertains to eligibility for Zonal and World Championships. Recently, the EBL first denied Pierre Zimmermann et al the right to represent Monaco in the Europeans, then reversed itself to allow their participation. The new Monégasques responded by dominating the Open European Team Championship and qualifying for the Bermuda Bowl next year in Bali. The USA has had quite a few non-citizens represent them over the years, as have a handful of other nations. Some countries insist on citizenship to be allowed play for them in World Championships, others just have residency requirements.
The Monégasque initiative is not a new idea. Thirty years ago, Alberto Calvo hired Jeff Hand of the USA and Drew Cannell of Canada to move to Panama and play bridge for them. That team just did not have the high profile or the impact that the new Monégasques have had. Before that, in the late 1960s, Ira Corn tried unsuccessfully to entice Sami Kehela to leave Toronto to join the Dallas Aces.
Other sports organisations have similar issues. The difference is that most have ‘stricter’ eligibilty standards than the WBF. The IOC, for example, demands that representatives of all nations have citizenship and be required to prove it with a passport of the country they represent. Lest you think this is a purer method, it has resulted in countries that crave Olympic glory dangling passports for elite athletes who have a chance at Olympic medals. Nexus, the University of Toronto Faculty of Law magazine (www.law.utoronto.ca) has an incisive article on this issue in their latest number. In it, they cite that Ethiopians running for Bahrain and Canadians playing hockey for Italy are but two examples of this shift in the meaning of citizenship itself and the citizenship market unwittingly created by the IOC and the Olympics.
Perhaps the strictest requirements are FIFA’s; strict in the sense that once one represents a country in Open competition, one may never play for another. However, the determination of which country one initially represents is quite liberal – one grandparent with citizenship is enough to qualify. With football players living all over the world, residency is not even an issue. Unlike in the past, when one had to declare one’s national affiliation even if playing the Under-17’s, now the rule is that one can play for one country in the age-limited events and another in Open competition.
However, bridge is a rather special case. One could in theory represent one’s country for seventy years or more. Whereas a football player’s or Olympian’s international career might last twenty years if he is truly exceptional, a bridge player can play from puberty to senility. So it is quite reasonable in this day of increased mobility to allow players to represent different countries at different times in their lives. We know of one international who was born in France of Polish and Tunisian parents, and subsequently lived in Canada, the USA, England, Switzerland and Australia, making her eligible to represent a potential eight different nations.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic plays football for Sweden, Ajax Amsterdam, Juventus, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris St. Germain and no one so much as blinks. So why should Zimmermann- Multon, Helness-Helgemo and Fantoni-Nunes not play for Monaco or Romain Zaleski for Italy or Zia for the USA? They are simply either following their careers or, as Glaser and Abramovich have done, indulging their passion with their wallets.
(IBPA Bulletin No 571 – August 4, 2012)