Official website of the Suffolk Contract Bridge Association
Universal Membership? Yes, that's what it's called; it's the English Bridge Union's big initiative to revitalise bridge in England – not Wales, Scotland or Ireland who are separate bridge nations and unchanged.
So what's the big idea? Get more new, more young players playing. Help people to enjoy the game more. Increase playing and behavioural standards; educate and stimulate by direct contact with all duplicate players.
Sounds good – why the fuss? Rather than have an opt-in model – where sufficiently interested players subscribe to the EBU – there is now an opt-out model. Except that the opt-in was at an individual level and the opt-out is at club level. The net effect is to make the majority of club-players in England members of the EBU.
Didn't this happen ages ago? No, it doesn't come into effect until 1st April 2010. I can sympathise with the feeling though, there was a long debate and a long gestation – both necessary.
How will it change my club evening? Well table-money will probably have to go up. Not much, just 20p for most. Clubs don't like to collect odd pence and those currently with 'something over' may not increase table-money at all. Those running a small per-session subsidy may move to the next 50p boundary. Some may not change a convenient collection amount and adjust your annual subscription.
This is Pay-to-Play, right? Right. You might think that this was a case of changing the dog-with-a-bad-name but strictly speaking, pay-to-play (P2P) is the way funds are raised and Universal Membership (UM) is the whole strategy. The early debate centred on the P2P part of UM and yes, allusions to 'tax' and other coercions played very badly. But P2P is still there.
Where does this money go? The EBU and the county. The EBU get 29p of your table-money, Suffolk (SCBA) get 4p.
Wait a moment, that's more than 20p! Well spotted. Currently the EBU charges for Master-Points (MPs) at 42p per certificate. They go to the top third so the club pays 14p per person to award them – or looking at it the 'P2P way' 14p of your table-money already goes to the EBU. But after UM charges for MPs are included. So the net increase is just 29p + 4p – 14p = 19p. When this was argued over, MPs were 40p each, a third was rounded to 13p and the sums gave 20p. Which has stuck.
So the EBU is going to run on just those extra pence? Yes, but they mount up. Their sums are to replace the subscription income they got from previous individual members. Club subscriptions have gone up (from £20.50 to £30.00) but their eggs are very much in the P2P basket. The SCBA is doing similarly: the 4p per player, per session replaces the £5.00 per member, per year. Suffolk are retaining the 50p per club-member club subscription.
So I'm a member now, what will that mean? The EBU and SCBA will treat you like we treated members before. You'll be eligible to play in EBU (SCBA) events – so widen your horizons and up your game. Your MPs will be registered too (and they'll be a new grading system), the EBU will send you a magazine and a diary, probably…
A magazine, "probably…"? Everyone will start off with one as an introduction but the EBU has an 'activity threshold' of 12 P2P sessions a year. If you play a club game once a month or more, your magazine subscription and the diary (18 months, nice diary) will continue to arrive.
The same for Suffolk? No, we plan to regard you as a member however active a player you are. Last year we decided to make Table Talk self-funding by accepting advertising and changing to the format you now read. Our magazine was the largest per-member cost we had and though some remain, we're optimistic we can continue with everything else despite having many more members. We now increasingly keep in touch via email (over 70% of 2009/10 members) – make sure we have yours.
You said clubs could opt out, which ones have? Four of Suffolk's 19 affiliated clubs decided against UM; Colchester Castle, Stratford St. Mary, Tally Ho and Woolpit Friendly Group.
Why did they do that? To be fair they should speak for themselves. But being part of organised bridge isn't just the extra pence on table money; there's a not insignificant extra demand on club officers, secretary/treasurer and scorers especially. The 15 clubs that are affiliating in 2010 have put in a lot of work to make sure they are ready for the processes that collect those pence. That has meant embracing unfamiliar technology and collecting membership data when they may not have been comfortable doing so.
So why are so many clubs affiliating? And perhaps they should speak for themselves too. The SCBA consulted clubs in 2008 to frame the county's response to the EBU. It was clear the 'adopters' were conscious that continuation of bridge was at stake, both within our culture and within their clubs. Being outside official organisation meant a retreat from rigorous direction, no recourse to experienced higher authority and a gradual isolation of their game. There was also a strong moral opinion to support the organisation that grows bridge by teaching it and maintains and enforces its rules. "The EBU is the only game in town" was a well supported remark.
I'm an SCBA member but I don't play at a Suffolk club – what should I do? Well if you don't play at all – and you'll be surprised how many there are like you – you should join the EBU directly. This costs the same as your combined EBU/SCBA subscription in 2009-10, £23.00. You'll still be a Suffolk member and we won't charge anything extra.
If you play your bridge elsewhere but have always given Suffolk primary allegiance, say you work in London and play club bridge there, then nothing will change – you'll still be an SCBA member.
If your allegiance is to another county and you (mostly) play in clubs there (say, over one of our borders), we would be happy to adopt you. We've dispensed with 'Associate' membership and this is a free informal arrangement. It means that you can play in any of our events (that don't require primary allegiance), receive Table Talk, newsletters etc.
So that's it? Yes and No. There's not much more to tell – that's the 'yes' part. But you're now a member of the EBU and SCBA and, if those grand aims are going to come to anything, you need to be involved. Not big time. If you value the game that – I'm guessing – has brought you a lot of fun and you'd like to see continue and develop, then the EBU and SCBA need your opinions and feedback. This is a great opportunity to shape organisations that have been regarded as well, let's say, not entirely relevant. You should take it to them.
And if anyone asks you tough questions, send them to the SCBA UM pages at http://www.suffolkbridge.co.uk/P2P/.
There is quite a lot of detail on the website. Much of it concerns financial matters, how clubs and the county relate to each other after UM. For player guides, the best pages to read are:
See the UM homepage for links to all the material.
Any committee member will help you with questions on UM but we have a dedicated working party to answer and pursue problems.
Other than the pages on the debate in June 2008, all the others are kept up to date on matters of both advice and fact and the page history panel reflects that.