Friday, November 16, 2007

Bridge Playing

Remember the furor that the Dixie Chicks caused by their anti-Bush statement? Something similar has happened in the more staid world of professional bridge:

In the genteel world of bridge, disputes are usually handled quietly and rarely involve issues of national policy. But in a fight reminiscent of the brouhaha over an anti-Bush statement by Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks in 2003, a team of women who represented the United States at the world bridge championships in Shanghai last month is facing sanctions, including a yearlong ban from competition, for a spur-of-the-moment protest.

At issue is a crudely lettered sign, scribbled on the back of a menu, that was held up at an awards dinner and read, "We did not vote for Bush."

By e-mail, angry bridge players have accused the women of "treason" and "sedition."

"This isn't a free-speech issue," said Jan Martel, president of the United States Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that selects teams for international tournaments. "There isn't any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them."

Not so, said Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist. "If the U.S.B.F. wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition," he said by e-mail.

Treason and sedition? My, my how incivil the language gets these days. And what is the punishment for this act of sedition? It's pretty steep, actually, and not what I'd imagine a democratic country would assign someone who merely criticizes the government:

Three players— Hansa Narasimhan, JoAnna Stansby and Jill Meyers — have expressed regret that the action offended some people. The federation has proposed a settlement to Ms. Greenberg and the three other players, Jill Levin, Irina Levitina and Ms. Rosenberg, who have not made any mollifying statements.

It calls for a one-year suspension from federation events, including the World Bridge Olympiad next year in Beijing; a one-year probation after that suspension; 200 hours of community service "that furthers the interests of organized bridge"; and an apology drafted by the federation's lawyer.

It would also require them to write a statement telling "who broached the idea of displaying the sign, when the idea was adopted, etc."

Alan Falk, a lawyer for the federation, wrote the four team members on Nov. 6, "I am instructed to press for greater sanction against anyone who rejects this compromise offer."

At least one of the players makes her living by playing bridge, so the punishment would make her lose all income for one year.

It could well be that the federation has the legal right to do all this. But I think it is not going to do any good for the U.S. reputation as a beacon of liberty.
Via Southern Beale.