We were disappointed to see Nikolas’s open letter to the organisers of the Madeira International Bridge Open, on the Bridgewinners website. It reflects neither the reality nor the intensive efforts made by the organising committee to ensure players’ safe participation.

Madeira is one of the safest places in the world. Since the very start of the pandemic, the Regional Government has taken stringent measures to control the spread of Covid-19, and has been largely successful.   In addition, there has been almost 100% compliance by the local population with the restrictions and mandates of the national and regional governments, and 97% of the over-12 population has been fully vaccinated. From the moment we began preparing for this year’s tournament, and throughout the tournament itself, we liaised with both the hotel and the regional health authority, implementing mandatory measures as a matter of course and accepting all suggestions for non-mandatory measures.

Not only were players required to show either a vaccination certificate or a recent test upon arrival at the airport, but we also required that they be shown at the Welcome Desk before playing credentials were issued. If unvaccinated players had arrived in Madeira more than two days in advance of the tournament, we required them to be re-tested before receiving their ID badges and permission to play. As it turned out, of the 367 participants only four arrived without vaccination certificates, and they presented negative test results as required.

Clear information was posted on the Covid-19 page on our website that masks would be required at the table, and the local regulation to that effect was also available on the tourist information website. If players chose to disregard that information, and their opponents chose not to remind them, the directors could not be constantly patrolling the tables to enforce regulations of which everyone was aware.   We believed we were dealing with adults who could reasonably be expected to take responsibility for themselves and their fellow players.

We were informed by the venue at very short notice, on the Thursday afternoon, that re-testing would be required in order for players to attend the Saturday complimentary lunch and the final dinner and prize-giving. The organisers spent hours on Thursday and Friday trying to negotiate with the hotel and regional health authority for testing facilities to be available on site, and posting notices to keep players informed of developments. Eventually, we were advised by the venue’s management that testing would not after all be required, since the lunch and dinner presented no greater risk than the hotel’s normal breakfast arrangements. All of this was outside our control. . Despite the hotel’s reversal of the decision to require testing for attendance at the lunch and dinner, we offered free tests to all those who preferred to have them.

Moreover, this was not related in any way to the positive test results received by several players: we received notification of these positive cases on Friday, more than 24 hours after the hotel had informed us of the need for testing for lunch and dinner. The Covid +ve players then of course had to withdraw from the tournament and were moved into quarantine accommodation by the health authority in accordance with the normal arrangements which have been in place on the island since March 2020. We made an announcement before start of play on Friday, and offered players the choice of withdrawing without penalty. For reasons of medical confidentiality and data protection we could not inform other players of the identity of those who had tested positive; only the infected people themselves could tell (and perhaps should have told) close contacts on their own initiative.

We are at a loss to understand Nikolas’s remark “… it is difficult for me to recommend the otherwise beautiful Madeira bridge festival”. For one thing, we do not know whether the pandemic will still exist in its present form next year, so any perceived failings in the restrictions or safety requirements at this year’s tournament may have little or no bearing on the safety of next year’s tournament. For another, the measures we put in place, on the advice of the regional government, were more than adequate to ensure that players would be safer in Madeira than in their own home towns, in most cases, and certainly safer than at their home airports or on the inbound flight. It is impossible to eliminate completely the risk at a major tournament – all we can do is try to minimise that risk – and players must have been well aware that face-to-face bridge carries some risk, however small. If we are not to abandon large tournaments altogether, it is difficult to see what else we could, or should, have done to protect players’ safety.

We were open about the positive cases and about the various changes to the hotel’s requirements for testing, and did whatever we could to keep players informed, to offer them voluntary tests, and to assure them that refunds would be issued to anyone who preferred not to play in the remainder of the tournament.

We will continue to provide a tournament which attracts players of a high standard from all over the world, as long as conditions permit. We believe that the players who came to Madeira were overwhelmingly satisfied with the arrangements, and understanding about the minor difficulties which were bound to arise in the circumstances. In the end, it can only ever be an individual decision as to whether to participate in a large event of any kind, including bridge tournaments, and we are grateful that so many individuals chose to join us again.