USBF Actions Relating to Shanghai Closing Ceremony Incident

This report details the USBF Board of Director’s actions and decisions concerning the display of a political sign by the Venice Cup winners at the medal ceremony which concluded the World Bridge Federation’s 2007 Championships in Shanghai, Peoples Republic of China.

The Facts
The medal presentation in Shanghai took place on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2007. Three members of the USBF Board of Directors attended the closing ceremony. These USBF directors returned to the United States on Sunday, Oct. 14th.
The USBF Board of Directors met by conference call on Monday, Oct. 15th.  All seven Board members participated in the meeting, as did the USBF Board’s legal counsel, Peter Rank. After extensive discussion in Executive Session, the Board, in Open Session, resolved to send a letter expressing the Federation’s regrets for the actions of the Venice Cup winners to the presidents of the World Bridge Federation and the Chinese Contract Bridge Association, the hosts for the World Bridge Championship. That letter stated:

 The Board of Directors of the United States Bridge Federation sends to both of you as well as to the members of both of your organizations our regrets regarding the behavior of the members of the USA1 Venice Cup team at the prize-giving ceremony in Shanghai. Despite our pride in the bridge achievement of our team, we know that this was neither the time nor place for a political statement. Please accept our sincere apology and be assured that we are acting to prevent this or similar behavior in the future.              

The Board deferred the question of what action to take with regard to the Venice Cup team members to a subsequent meeting.

The USBF Board again met by conference call on Thursday, Oct. 18th to discuss what action should be taken with regard to the Venice Cup team members. Once again, despite short notice, all seven Board members and the Board’s counsel participated. The Board heard from one of the Venice Cup team members, Jill Levin, who answered questions about the team’s decision to display the sign. After hearing from Ms. Levin, the Board went into Executive Session for a lengthy discussion, which included consulting with counsel about possible actions. The Board reviewed its Grievance, Appeals and Disciplinary Procedures, which require any complaint against a member be made within 15 days of the action complained of.
The USBF Board, in Open Session, resolved to file a disciplinary complaint against all six members of the winning Venice Cup team and its Non-playing Captain. The vote on the matter was unanimous among those participating. There were three abstentions: USBF President Jan Martel abstained because she was charged with acting on the complaint. Director Rose Meltzer abstained because, as Chair of the USBF Grievance & Appeals Committee (“GAC”), she would be charged with assembling a Hearing Panel if a Charge were filed. Director William Pollack abstained because of conflict of interest.
After the USBF Board voted to institute disciplinary action, President Martel commenced the formal disciplinary process. Director/GAC Chair Meltzer then promptly set about assembling an unbiased Hearing Panel. Director Meltzer’s task was complicated by the fact that all but one of the fifteen members of the USBF Grievance & Appeals Committee had conflicts in this matter. Peter Rank volunteered to represent the Hearing Panel and withdrew from further representation of the USBF Board in the matter.

At its regular meeting on Thursday, Oct. 25th, less than 2 weeks after the Closing Ceremonies in Shanghai, the USBF Board heard from GAC Chair Meltzer regarding her nominations to the Hearing Panel of persons not on the regular GAC roster. The USBF Board appointed four temporary members to the GAC, replacing members who were ineligible to serve in this matter. Meltzer was thus able to appoint a Hearing Panel of five (5) experienced and distinguished adjudicators: Rhoda Walsh, Presiding Member, Wafik Abdou, Peter Boyd, Kitty Cooper, and Nadine Wood, none of whom, to the best of Meltzer’s knowledge, had conflicts in this matter. Kitty Cooper subsequently recused herself from the Panel and Meltzer appointed Rita Shugart to replace her. Peter Rank, in his capacity as counsel to the Hearing Panel, then detailed for the benefit of the USBF Board the procedures that would be followed and the role he would fill.

Mr. Rank recommended that the USBF Board retain separate, independent counsel to present the disciplinary case to the Hearing Panel on behalf of the Board. The Board approved that suggestion.

After the Oct. 25 meeting, the USBF Board retained attorney Allan Falk to represent it before the Hearing Panel. Subsequently, the USBF Board has conferred at length with Mr. Falk, by conference calls and e-mail exchanges. Mr. Falk has moved rapidly to amass evidentiary materials and recruit witnesses, to research, analyze and resolve various potential defenses to the disciplinary charge, to formulate opening and closing statements, to outline the USBF’s position as to sanctions, and otherwise to prepare for the hearings and any contingencies that may arise. In his preparation, Mr. Falk reviewed the USBF and WBF Conditions of Contest and the Olympic Charter, which the WBF Conditions of Contest require participants in WBF events to abide by. The Olympic Charter provides “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues, or other areas.”

The Hearing Panel has scheduled hearings to start on Thursday, Nov. 29th at the Marriott Hotel in San Francisco, and to continue each of the next two mornings as necessary.

Meanwhile, the USBF Board, through Mr. Falk, offered three of the respondents—those who had submitted a prompt written apology before disciplinary proceedings were commenced—an opportunity to accept discipline and resolve the charge short of a hearing, subject to the approval of the Hearing Panel as to the sanction proposed. The Board later offered the remaining four respondents an opportunity to accept discipline and resolve this matter. No respondent has accepted the settlement offers.

Additional Actions by the USBF
The USBF has excellent Conditions of Contest and Disciplinary Procedures that have been carefully considered by USBF committees over several years. The USBF Disciplinary Procedures provide adequate support for the actions taken in this matter. Nonetheless, and consistent with its continuing obligation to improve, the USBF Board and its committees have already started to consider changes to make certain that an incident like this does not happen again. But the USBF will not rush to enact rules that might later prove inadequate or even counter-productive.

The USBF Board of Directors has committed itself, before next year’s Open, Women’s and Seniors Team Trials, to take the following steps:

  • Draft a Code of Conduct governing all persons representing the USBF in International Competition;
  • Add corresponding sections to the USBF General Conditions of Contest regarding the proper behavior of USBF representatives;
  • Add a provision to the entry form for United States Bridge Championships by which participants agree to abide by USBF behavioral standards if they qualify to represent the USBF.

Additionally, on its own volition, the International Team Trial Committee’s Conditions of Contest Subcommittee, many of whose members are former Internationalists, has expressed a desire to implement procedures to assure that this sort of incident will not recur, and to that end has begun discussing appropriate modifications to the USBF General Conditions of Contest.