The World Bridge Federation (WBF) is the international governing body of contract bridge. The WBF is responsible for world championship competitions, most of which are conducted at a few multi-event meets on a four-year cycle. The most prestigious championships are those for national teams in Open, Women, and Seniors categories: the Bermuda Bowl, Venice Cup, and Senior Bowl (jointly the biennial "World Teams Championships"), and the quadrennial World Team Olympiads, incorporated in the World Mind Sports Games beginning 2008.
The World Bridge Federation was founded August 1958 by delegates from Europe, North America, and South America (now Zones 1 to 3). It is incorporated under the laws of Switzerland as a 'non-profit' organization. Harold Stirling Vanderbilt was made the first honorary member of the WBF for his work developing the game. The current president is Gianarrigo Rona of Italy, effective October 2010.
WBF membership now comprises 123 National Contract Bridge Organizations (NBOs) with about 700,000 affiliated members, most of whom participate in bridge competitions locally and many of whom compete nationally and internationally. The NBOs belong to the "zonal organization" in one of eight geographic zones. Each National Contract Bridge Organization agrees to fulfil certain requirements, such as opening its ranks to all its citizens and residents and upholding a standard of ethics acceptable to the WBF.
The World Bridge Federation has a Congress to which each NBO is entitled to send one delegate. The Congress meets every second year, at Team Olympiads and at World Championships. The WBF is administered by an Executive Council which is assisted by the various Committees and Consultants it appoints.
The purpose of the World Bridge Federation shall be:
The World Bridge Federation is run by an Executive Council consisting of delegates from the eight geographical zones, plus the President.
There are five delegates from the European Bridge League (Zone 1), five from the American Contract Bridge League (Zone 2), two from the Pacific Asia Bridge Federation (Zone 6) and one from each of the other five geographical zones. In addition, two more members of the Council are elected by the High Level Players Commission. Thus the Council has twenty voting members, including the President.
The Executive Council meets annually at the site of the World Championships. There is also a Management Committee which transacts necessary business between Executive Council meetings.
The presidential term is four years from late in even-number non-Olympiad years such as 2014.
The current president Gianarrigo Rona (born 1940, Pavia) was elected at the 2009 World Team Championships and he succeeded José Damiani after the 2010 World Bridge Series. He was president of the European Bridge League (EBL) from 1999 to 2010.
The World Bridge Federation was formed on 18 August 1958 in Oslo, Norway, by delegates from Europe, USA and South America and Baron Robert de Nexon, from France, an inspiring figure in bridge, was elected as first President.
Charles J. Solomon, from USA (1964-1968) and Count Carl Bonde, from Sweden (1968-1970) succeeded Baron de Nexon as WBF President. With the election of Julius Rosenblum in 1970, the WBF started to assume the figure of a real World Organization. Rosenblum strongly believed that bridge needed to have a visible central organization with a global reach rather than conducting its affairs on a local or continental basis.
When in 1976 Rosenblum decided to retire for health reasons, Jaime Ortiz-Patiño from Switzerland, was elected President. Under his guidance the WBF started its new modern era and in August 1977 was incorporated under the Laws of the State of New York as a "not for profit" organization. The Federation, cast off the mantle of a paternalistic organization, and was re-structured as an International Federation devoted to offering its members the best possible service. The stimulation given by Ortiz-Patiño to building the organizational and administrative structure, to developing the discipline and its image, to introducing new rules and a rigid code of ethics is still effective even today. When he left the WBF in 1986 he was elected President Emeritus by acclamation for his exceptional services to bridge.
Denis Howard, from Australia, succeeded him in the Presidency from 1986 to 1990. Re-elected for a second term, Howard resigned in January 1991 following a crisis within the world of bridge. Ernesto d’Orsi, from Brazil, who had distinguished himself as a leading bridge administrator succeeded him in 1991 and 1992 and successfully brought the WBF through this difficult and delicate situation. In August 1992 he left the chair to Robert S. Wolff, from the USA, one of the top players in the history of bridge, who successfully completed the task started by d’Orsi and then left the chair in August 1994, when José Damiani, from France, was elected President.
José Damiani changed the way forward completely, both for the WBF and Bridge itself. Under his leadership, following its initial recognition as an International Organization in 1995 pursuant to Article 29 of the Olympic Charter, the WBF was recognized as an International Sport Federation in 1999 by the International Olympic Committee. In October 2000 in Monaco, the World Bridge Federation was admitted as a member of the GAISF (General Association of International Sports Federations - Olympic and non-Olympic) - now SportAccord - at the General Assembly of this Association.
The WBF also became a member of ARISF (Association of Recognized International Sport Federations) and in October 2002 moved its headquarters to Lausanne (Switzerland), the Olympic City, where it is incorporated under Swiss Law. The WBF is one of the founder members of IMSA (International Mind Sports Association) which was formed on 19 April 2005.
José Damiani left the chair in November 2010 after 16 years of Presidency, achieving tremendous success in developing bridge, introducing new concepts of communication and information, which attracted media, sponsors and supporters; improving technological systems to manage and run the competitions, creating new events participated in by players of any category and developing youth bridge, opening the door and then constantly supporting and improving the teaching of bridge to the pupils in the schools. When he left, was elected WBF Chairman Emeritus by acclamation for his extraordinary services to bridge. In 2013 José Damiani was elected as WBF President Emeritus by acclamation.
Gianarrigo Rona, from Italy, former First Vice-President and EBL President (1999-2010) was elected President in São Paulo September 2009 and took the chair in November 2010. He was re-elected in Bali in 2013.
For purposes of administration and furtherance of its objectives and to comply with the International Olympic Committee’s principles of the five IOC rings, the WBF structure is divided into five geographical Continental Conferences identical to the IOC’s five rings. For organizational reasons the WBF established zones within any of the five Continents which, although part of a Continent, shall be entitled to have at least one member on the Executive and berths in WBF tournaments set forth in Article 9 of the By-Laws. Each zone has its own Zonal Conference of its member NBOs, organizing, managing and administrating its activity and conducting both its own zonal competitions and those delegated to it by the WBF.
The eight Zonal Conferences are: Zone 1 Europe; Zone 2 North America; Zone 3 South America; Zone 4 Asia and the Middle East; Zone 5 Central America and Caribbean; Zone 6 Pacific Asia; Zone 7 South Pacific; Zone 8 Africa.
The WBF has shown strong and steady growth and its membership now comprises 124 National Bridge Organizations (NBOs) with approximately 1,000,000 affiliated members who participate actively in competitive bridge events (locally, nationally and internationally).
Each National Bridge Organization agrees to fulfill certain requirements, such as opening its ranks to all its citizens and residents and upholding a standard of ethics acceptable to the WBF.