In 1990 at the Geneva World Championships, the World Bridge Federation (WBF) Executive Council, in an unprecedented move, offered the presidency to Ernesto d’Orsi and Bobby Wolff, each of whom would serve a twoyear half term as designated successors to Denis Howard. That was a turbulent period in WBF’s history, with strained international relations all too prevalent.
However, at the 1994 World Championships in Albuquerque, after first d’Orsi and then Wolff had restored some peace and stability through their distinctive leadership styles and ideas, the Executive Council elected José Damiani of France the WBF’s ninth president for a traditional four- ear term.
Damiani, born in 1939, learned bridge while studying law and economics at the University of Paris, but, after graduating, had little time for the game, devoting most of his time to his career and more physical sports. From 1962-69, he worked in the energy industry, and then started his own water treatment business before turning to public relations and company consultancy in 1977; running a successful sports marketing company provided a strong foundation when bridge organization became his central focus.
When a sports injury made it impossible for him to fully enjoy tennis and skiing, José directed his attention to bridge. He joined the French Bridge Federation (FFB) in 1970, and his play improved quickly after returning to the game: three years later he had reached the first division and by the late eighties he had won five national championships and had represented his country internationally several times, earning three medals in European competition.
A World International Master, José was non-playing captain of the French open team that won the 1992 World Championship and the non-playing captain of the French women’s team that earned the European title in 2010.
Though José might have advanced even further as a player, it quickly became apparent that he had a special aptitude for bridge administration, and that aspect of the game soon dominated the time he was able to devote to bridge. He started as President of his local club in 1972, was elected President of his district in 1975 and President of FFB in 1978, a post he held until the end of 1983.
Those were the most dynamic six years in FFB history: membership rose from 20,000 to 44,000, while restructuring and the implementation of innovative policies set the stage for continued increases that propelled France to leading roles in the European and international bridge communities.
José joined the European Bridge League (EBL) Executive Committee in 1979, became First Vice President in 1981, and was elected EBL President in 1987. He was reelected in 1991 for a second four-year term. By the time he stepped down in 1995, he had succeeded in raising the membership considerably and in safeguarding the league’s financial health by doubling the number of registered members, by nearly doubling the number of member national federations, and by securing sponsorship support that created a valuable reserve.
While José was in office, many development sensitive areas, including bridge education, women’s bridge and youth bridge, surpassed expectations and flourished.
Damiani’s first participation in WBF activities came in 1983 as an EBL representative, and he became more intimately involved as First Vice President in 1986, gaining valuable experience that prepared him for his election as President in 1994. His initiative, wide ranging contacts, and ability to build consensus made him an easy choice for re-election in 1998 and again in 2002 and 2006, which made him the longest serving President in the history of the WBF.
He pursued the same goals for bridge development, but also devoted a lot of energy to building a case for having bridge acknowledged as a sport. During his term, the WBF was accredited by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) first as a Recognized Sport Organization (1995), then as an International Sports Federation (1999), which was the final prerequisite for formal consideration as an official Olympic Games sport. Bridge had a strong ally in the late Marc Hodler of Switzerland, a bridge player and IOC Vice President whose efforts were instrumental in getting the game approved as an official sport by the IOC, and there appeared to be adequate support for getting bridge into the Games in some fashion.
However, when the positively-inclined Juan Antonio Samaranch stepped down as IOC President, his successor, Jacques Rogge, ruled against including bridge in the Olympics, a disappointment for José and for bridge. In addition, the WBF is now a member of ARISF (Association of the IOC-Recognized International Sports Federations) and Sport Accord, the biggest international sport organization, bringing together all (about 100) Olympic and non- Olympic International Federations. In 2005, José created the International Mind Sports Association (IMSA), which held its first World Mind Sports Games in Beijing in 2008.
As IMSA was successful in finding sponsorship and significant funding, WBF was able to invite and cover expenses for nearly 110 youth teams and 25 women’s teams.
The current plan is for the second edition of WMSG to be held in Manchester, England, after the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. In 2010, at the conclusion of the World Bridge Series in Philadelphia, after an unprecedented four terms at the helm, Damiani officially turned over the Presidency to Italy’s Gianarrigo Rona. Damiani has safely shepherded WBF through some difficult times, during which the world has changed significantly and yet the game has developed dramatically and thrived on many different levels. To lead, build and maintain consensus in an organization as diverse as the WBF for 16 years is in itself a remarkable achievement, but José has also rapidly and efficiently moved the organization forward technologically and logistically, helped to keep it afloat with innovative sponsorship initiatives, increased the number of member National Bridge Organizations, registered players, and participants in WBF events, added a new WBF Zone (Africa, Zone 8), and improved bridge’s image on the world’s sporting stage.
Of all his accomplishments as president, Damiani is especially proud of the technical advances he has helped to bring to the sport of bridge: “During the last 16 years I have endeavored to drag the WBF into the 21st century, making full use of all the new technology that is now available to us: first-class bridge tables with full screens, bidding boxes, symmetrical playing cards, virtually perfect computerized deal duplication through Duplimate machines, instantaneous scoring with the implementation of Bridge Mates, advanced Vugraph capability through Bridge Vision, and even computerized lineup submissions and postings.
“By the next WBF Team Championships in the Netherlands in October, 2011, development will be completed for an automated recording system with web cam and an electronic reader that will allow every match to be broadcast on the Internet, creating many new options for spectators. The emerging technology will create complete and accurate records of the bidding and play, eliminating the need for recording personnel and inevitable human error.
“Though computer bridge programs were only the germ of an idea in the early nineties, the 14th edition of the World Computer Bridge Championships in Philadelphia revealed just how far this domain has progressed.” Damiani has always been a “players’ president,” keeping in mind the comfort and well-being of the players while also trying to make the image of bridge more dynamic. Pursuing his belief that bridge should be a celebration for all who love the game, he has created and developed new events, like the Transnational Teams and additional mixed, senior, and youth championships, to encourage not only the elite players but also those who have not (yet) achieved that status.
By making the World Championships accessible to many more players, José has been able to advance his goal of “Bridge for Peace.” A list of the sites for the WBF’s annual World Championships reads like a travelogue for bridge players to explore the world: Beijing (twice), Rhodes, Hammamet, Lille, Bermuda, Maastricht, Paris (moved from Bali at the last minute in September, 2001), Montreal, Monte Carlo, Istanbul, Estoril, Verona, Shanghai, Sao Paulo, Philadelphia. That José has invariably managed to find the right blend of desirable venues, first class playing conditions, professionally staged events, luxury and budget accommodations to satisfy the requirements and tastes of active players in 125 member nations is no small feat.
With the support of UNESCO, José has had success in introducing bridge as a curriculum subject in some European nations, and initiatives are projected in Asia, Africa and the USA (with the support of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett). Convinced of the importance of getting more young players into the game, Damiani has always stressed that while the WBF can provide leadership in this area the national federations must be willing to follow up and put in the required effort.
Successfully managing an organization of diverse personalities and nationalities has been challenging, but José takes pride in having maintained an effective dynamic with so many caring people - members of the Executive Council, professional tournament and support staff, and countless volunteers - who have worked in harmony for the good of bridge for all these years.
Damiani says he intends to remain heavily involved in the organization, and plans to participate in future world championships, perhaps more frequently as a player; his passion for all aspects of the game has not diminished.
He is Honorary President of FFB and since 2013 he is President Emeritus of the WBF and for his work in the Bridge he has been elected in the WBF Committee of Honour.
José Damiani, né le 7 juin 1939 à Paris lieu où il réside encore, est un bridgeur français d'origine macédonienne (Korzičan), ancien chef d'entreprise, Président de la Fédération mondiale des sports de l'esprit qu'il a cofondée dès 2005, Président de la Fédération mondiale de bridge (W.B.F.) de 1994 à 2012 (plus longue durée exercée à ce poste), de la Fédération européenne à partir de 1987, et de la Fédération française de 1978 à 1983 (le nombre de licenciés hexagonaux passant alors de 20000 à 44000).
Durant son mandat à la tête de la W.B.F., sa discipline est devenue membre du mouvement olympique, et a été reconnue par le Comité international olympique, donnant lieu à une préolympiade lors du Grand-Prix de Salt Lake City en 2002 (épreuve remportée chez les féminines par Catherine d'Ovidio (qui reçu la médaille de l'Ordre national du Mérite de ses mains à Paris en 2008, Sylvie Willard, et Danièle Allouche).
Champion de France Interclubs en 1976 (avec le Club de Raincy (Villemomble-Seine-Saint-Denis), dont il fut Président en 1972), et 1988, Champion de Division Nationale à 3 reprises, Vice-champion d'Europe seniors par quatre en 1999, 3e des championnats d'Europe mixtes par paires en 1998, Capitaine de l'équipe de France masculine vainqueur des Olympiades mondiales en 1992.
Il est président honoraire de FFB et depuis 2013 il est président émérite de la WBF et il a été élu au sein du Comité d'honneur WBF.