Trumped Out

Drug testing in world-class bridge bounces a medal-winner

The war on drugs didn't go looking for the World Bridge Federation. Instead, the federation, in its quixotic quest for Olympic status, came to the war on drugs. And now Disa "Dexie" Eythorsdottir has become the first casualty.

In its continuing effort to be officially recognized as an Olympic sport, the WBF in 2000 agreed to drug-test its competitors and adopted the International Olympic Committee's seven-page list of prohibited substances for all Olympians. The notion of any contract bridge bidder bulking up on steroids like an Eastern European über-lifter seemed bizarre -- even in a game that makes every player into a dealer.

But sure enough, the testing has implicated Eythorsdottir and two other players since it was instituted for major tournaments.

Houstonian Dan Morse, as a team captain and chief doping enforcement officer at the World Bridge Championship in Montreal, has mixed feelings about the testing. The 64-year-old bridge master and pharmacy owner is one of the leaders in the crusade for Olympic status (see "The Olympic Bid," by Lisa Gray, October 26, 2000) and believes it shows that bridge players want to keep an even playing field -- or in this case, a level card table. However, Morse also thinks the federation should adopt its own rules for drug testing -- and stop taking it to extremes.

"I personally think that it's time for us to make our own list" of prohibited drugs, Morse says. This would include speed (and its legal forms, such as Ritalin), which could enhance a player's performance during a typical four-hour bridge session. He would also include cocaine and heroin, but isn't so sure about alcohol and marijuana.

"Marijuana seems to be quite prevalent among people," he says. "You ought to take a survey of your staff and see how many people have tried marijuana."

And while the International Olympic Committee bans drug-masking diuretics, Morse notes that many people take them for legitimate reasons.

His opinions are in line with a 2000 study by the Netherlands Centre for Doping Affairs. It concluded that "mind sports" like bridge, chess and Go should have their own doping standards. The center concluded that they should prohibit amphetamines, ephedrines, cocaine, beta-blockers and "substances that increase the availability of oxygen in the brain," such as erythropoietin and perfluorocarbons.

Marijuana just makes more dummy hands in bridge, the center said. Given its "lack of potential beneficial effects on mind sport performance," it doesn't even make the short list of banned substances.

The WBF went easy on the first two drug users detected. They were not penalized. One had taken prescription antihistamines for allergies -- Morse says the IOC considers them performance enhancers, but that they don't provide any competitive edge to bridge players.

Results on the second player showed the presence of alcohol. "We don't think that's a performance-enhancing drug," Morse says. "If you're drunk, then that's a conduct issue."

Then came Eythorsdottir, the first disqualification. The Icelandic-born American was one of those randomly selected for the testing. She was ousted for refusing to be tested, explaining that she was taking prescription Dexedrine for a "back condition" and was not aware that it was banned.

Her teammates (including women's world champion Shawn Quinn of Houston) accepted their silver medals in the women's team event. Eythorsdottir moped home to Alabama with nothing but her amphetamines. Morse says her attorney has threatened to sue the WBF if they don't give her a medal.

Morse adds that Eythorsdottir might not have been bounced if she'd told him or the WBF about the Dexedrine before the testing.

Whether Morse achieves his goal of getting bridge into the Olympics or not, he still wants to "keep bridge a clean game."

"We want this to be a sport that anyone can aspire to play," he says. And if played right, it seems bridge can be its own drug. "It's the kind of game that keeps you young," Morse says. "It's thoroughly stimulating."

 
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