Sunday, 24 October 2010

( This most unusual case came up before a High Court judge, after an appeal was lodged by the plaintiffs who had failed in their initial attempt to secure a County Court injunction. The pursuit of this injunction was to stop the Cardinals from setting up a separate invitation-only bridge club, which would then target members of the Walnut Tree Allotment BC as paying customers. In addition, damages were sought on behalf of the plaintiffs to compensate any loss of revenue from reduced table money if any of their members had elected to play away. The judgement given can be seen below . )
" Several questions need to be addressed. For instance, is it a cardinal sin for WTABC members to set up a rival bridge club competing for the same custom ? Does this action warrant the court's intervention ? Moreover, is there a conflict of interests, when the WTABC secretary also happens to one of the holy trinity of proprietors ? And finally, would a once a month night of bridge have any detrimental effect on the Walnut Tree revenues on evenings where players exercised their choice over these two alternative venues ?
So although I find bridge club disputes very petty, tedious and tiresome, I have given these questions a great deal of thought and consideration.
Firstly, I do not see within the club's constitution any reference to a restriction whereby members must desist from any activity that could be viewed as a conflict of interests. The whinging plaintiffs need to recognise that we live in a free society which welcomes and embraces freedom of association and congregation. It is not uncommon to see break-away splinter groups forming new bridge clubs, or new ones just appearing on the scene to fill gaps in the market. Each club no doubt offers welcome alternatives and options for bridge playing enthusiasts. Moreover, it is not uncommon to see some players actively looking to join several clubs in order to provide themselves with unlimited options and choices. To thwart the Cardinals' honorable intentions by way of a tacky and ill-considered injunction would be an abuse of the legal system.
The next issue , I agree , is a little more contentious in that the Secretary does have a foot in both camps. But is there a real and genuine conflict of interests ? Does her role in one organisation undermine her standing and role in another ? Does her support and enthusiasm to promote an alternative monthly venue undermine her commitment, work rate, and dedication, as club secretary, to act in the best interests of her home club ? I think not. The two entities are not strictly in competition with each other. From any reasonable perspective, the two clubs are much more akin to an amalgamation and merger. Her combined commitment and energy to see both clubs enjoying success is to be commended, not doubted. She is a saint.
Looking at the reality of the situation, the CBC intends to operate only on one Friday in the month. It's sole focus is on fun, food, and friendly bridge. The 3 "F's ". The evidence is clear that with food included the Cardinals offer a unique experience which is not available at the Walnut Tree . This all inclusive bridge experience is exclusive to them. It fills a gap in the market providing Walnut Tree members and other invitees with that special party experience. In my view, there's no risk whatsoever that this alternative venue will diminish membership numbers at the Walnut Tree : in fact the opposite may be true. By providing a good experience for all those that turn up, rave word-of-mouth reviews might encourage invitees to become members of both clubs or to play more at both clubs on a regular basis . Far from there being a conflict of interests. it is far more likely that mutually beneficial interests will be created. Naturally, when a private club is restricted anyway to hiring rooms with a limit of 12 tables, an invitation only arrangement is both sensible and appropriate, if only to guarantee that perfect blend of social harmony and bonhomie. Because let's face it, it makes sense for each and every bridge club to exercise their right to keep the riff raff away.
As to the question of whether the Walnut Tree has suffered financially, whenever the Cardinals have a do, there may be an argument that supports that view. This, however, solely depends on how many of the invitees who elected to go the Cardinals are regular attenders of the Walnut Tree. I suspect the numbers are a very few indeed. Moreover, given the fact a large group of players belong to other clubs demonstrates the fact that people like to have alternative choices. Just because I am a M&S credit card club member doesn't mean I can't shop at Sainsbury's.
So having been invited along with my wife to the next Cardinals' do, which I might add we are both really looking forward to, I have no hesitation in dismissing this appeal.

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