Report: European Bridge League caught in controversy; teams boycotting Italy over cheating claims

The world of bridge, as it's gearing up for the largest competitions in the European circuit, is engulfed in controversy.

According to The Telegraph, the inclusion of Fulvio Fantoni on the Italian team during European Bridge League qualifying matches for the World Team Championships and European Champions' Cup has led to a boycott of Italy's Open Team, due to Fantoni's alleged history of cheating. Scotland was the first team to refuse to play the Italians, but other countries have followed suit, The Telegraph reported.

"It’s outrageous," one bridge player from another team told The Telegraph. "There is widespread belief among members of the bridge-playing community that he should not have been eligible to play."

If all other teams boycott the matches against Italy, that means Italy would not earn any points in the qualifying rounds, which could lead to their missing the tournament.

The governing body at the EBL, however, could still award the Italian team a spot in the tournaments at its discretion, The Telegraph reported.

"The organizers could still award Italy a qualification for the championships based on previous form," an unnamed member of the EBL executive committee told The Telegraph. "We will not know that until the end of the qualifying games on Saturday. There is no precedent for this and no written regulation to deal with teams refusing to play each other, so we will have to wait to see what happens. It is very problematic."

Players prepare cards for the next game after demonstrating a hand of bridge.
Players prepare cards for the next game after demonstrating a hand of bridge.

The Telegraph reported that Fantoni, 57, has been subject to long-running, but unproven claims of cheating. According to The Telegraph, Fantoni was accused of cheating in the 2014 European Championships with his then-partner, Claudio Nunes, by positioning their own cards in a certain way to indicate the strength of their own hands.

Then, a Dutch amateur bridge player and physicist with the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, Maaijke Mevius, noticed a pattern between the way Fantoni and Nunes played their cards. Mevius noticed that both players allegedly placed their cards either horizontally or vertically to communicate with the other about the strength of their hands.

According to The Telegraph, Nunes defended himself by saying that he had had "un momento di obnubilamento," or a temporary blackout and that he had not cheated.

The Telegraph reported that a video investigation by the EBL, the Italian Bridge Federation (FIGB) and the American Contract Bridge League found the claims to be verified, leading to their being banned in 2016.

Fantoni and Nunes appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration in Sport, The Telegraph reported, and the CAS ruled in 2017 that the allegations had not be proven. That decision effectively allowed Fantoni and Nunes to resume playing in EBL and FIGB matches.

The matches are online and qualifying runs through August 28.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: European Bridge League teams boycotting Italy over cheating claims