Sunday, 26 July 2009

TaBR3: Who Makes the Rules? (part 2)

In the previous post I argued that a TD should follow the regulations of his club (or tournament, or NBO), even if they contradict the Laws of bridge. That raises the question (as put by Nigel K in a comment to that post) - if a regulation is illegal, what can be done about it?

One possibility is to go through the usual process for changing a regulation. That means persuading the committee responsible for the regulation that they should change it. Very rarely, a committee might be overriden by a general meeting, or something like that.

But that doesn't sound very satisfactory. Surely if a regulation is illegal, it ought to be possible to require it to be put right.

Well, personally I don't think it's possible. Or, if it is possible, I think the cure would be worse than the disease. Let's consider the alternatives.

As mentioned in the previous post, there is a sort of chain of authority for making regulations, with the WBF at the top and TDs at the bottom. So, let's suppose that we have a club which has made an illegal regulation. Now, the WBF is the ultimate authority for deciding what is or is not legal, but there is no direct link between the WBF and an individual club, so the WBF can't do anything about it. So authority is passed down to the next link in the chain - the national organization. There is a link between a club and its NBO - clubs are members of the NBO - so, in principle at least, a NBO can require a club to bring its regulations into line with the Laws. In a similar way, everyone answers to the organization immediately above them in the chain: TDs work for their clubs (as per my previous post) and NBOs answer to the WBF.

Well, that's the principle. Is it going to work? In order to force a club's regulation to be changed (for example), three things will have to happen:
  1. The NBO has to hear about it.
  2. The NBO has to have the time to tell the club that they should change what they are doing.
  3. The NBO has to be prepared to follow it through and take action if the club fails to put things right.
The first of these things doesn't happen very often: it requires someone to care enough about the situation to make a complaint. The second step is even less likely: NBOs are very busy, and most of them don't even get round to fixing their own rules, let alone worrying about what their clubs might be doing. Even in a reasonably pro-active NBO like our EBU, I'm sure they would prefer not to have to interfere.

Then we get to the last step. What can an NBO actually do to force a club to comply? Most likely, adhering to the Laws is a condition of membership. So they can threaten to withdraw affiliation (or "masterpoints", from the members' point of view). But now that's getting pretty serious. And the NBO doesn't want to lose a club. If too much pressure is put on them then they will just walk away. The NBO really doesn't want to take action over what is a relatively trivial matter. So it is very, very unlikely that this will happen.

One level further up, it's even less likely. If a NBO has an illegal regulation, then the WBF can in theory tell them to change; but in practice the WBF can't afford to lose an NBO - indeed there's no way they can take any meaningful action against them at all, over something as minor as this. You can't punish the players for actions taken by a committee.

And so the authority passes down to the next link in the chain.

You know what that means - it means that the people who get to decide whether the regulations are illegal are the same people who wrote the regulations.

Now, you know how easy it is to twist the wording of the Laws to make them say pretty much anything you want. Any regulating authority worth its salt will be able to come up with some justification for the rules it wants to make. And you may think that this supposed justification is poor to non-existent; but it makes no difference, because the regulating authority itself is the judge. Particularly for an NBO - if they say their regulations are legal, then they are legal, almost by defintion.

Now, personally I have more faith in my NBO than I do in the WBF, so this doesn't particularly bother me. But if you feel there is something that needs to be changed, clearly this situation is problematic.

The final possibility is to use whatever power you have to defy the regulating authority. I explained in my last post why I feel the TD should not do this. But similar arguments apply to other groups. Nigel mentioned appeals committees. Technically an AC doesn't have the authority to overrule a TD on a matter of Law; but even leaving that aside, I think it would be a bad idea. Basically I have three concerns; these all apply to TDs as well though I didn't really spell them out in my last post:
  • Not the right time and place. Regulations are usually decided in elected committees. This may not always produce the best results, but it's the best process we have. In particular, it takes time to properly evaluate a regulation, and it really demands hearing a variety of opinions. If a committee has been through this process, and has come up with a regulation, they really shouldn't be overruled by a different group who haven't had the time for proper consideration. And, though I'm not the world's greatest believer in democracy, I still don't think it's right to have an unelected committee thinking they can overrule an elected one, particularly if (when we're talking about NBO regulations) a committee was elected to carry out specifically this function.
  • Consistency. Players really deserve to know, before they start playing, what the regulations are. If you set aside a regulation then you are changing the rules.
  • Power struggles. It's not good to have two groups both thinking they have the right to make a particular decision. The poor players and TDs won't know who to believe. And it leads to bad feeling and ever more entrenched positions. It's much easier to change things for the better when there is only one committee involved, even if they are sometimes misguided.

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