International Federation of Poker: Governing Body for the Industry?



Ever since the explosion of poker in the early years of the 21st century, attempts have been made to organize players, either through a governing body for the sport or an organization to impose changes in the game, with varying degrees of success.

In April, a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland attracted seven federations – the Danish Poker Federation (Denmark), the Fédération Française des Joueurs de Poker (France), the Stichting Nederlandse PokerBond (Holland), the United Kingdom Poker Federation (U.K.), the Russian Sport Poker Federation (Russia), the Ukrainian Poker Federation (Ukraine), and the Associacao Brazileira de Poker (Brazil) – to undertake the task of creating a worldwide poker federation that would bring the game into the sporting community. From this meeting was born the International Federation of Poker.

One of the tasks that the International Federation of Poker completed was electing its leadership and, when it comes to its President, its membership couldn’t have chosen a better man. Noted author Anthony Holden, who has written “Big Deal” and “Bigger Deal” and traveled around the globe playing poker, was elected as the first President of the organization. Poker News Daily had the chance to speak with Holden and discuss some of the challenges that face him.

PND: The International Federation of Poker (IFP) is not the first attempt at starting a governing body for poker. What chances for success do you believe the IFP has and how will it make a difference beyond other attempts?

Holden: The chances for success are as promising as they are exciting. The poker industry has grown so fast in the past decade that a governing infrastructure hasn’t been able to grow at the same pace. Poker is now one of the three most participated sports in the world alongside golf and fishing. There is a great need for a properly structured governing body, as there is in all competitive sports, and the IFP is such a body.

There are several features of the IFP that differentiate it from the previous organizations. The IFP is the first governing body in poker to be properly structured as a Sports Federation. The IFP is a not-for-profit organization with its head office in Lausanne, Switzerland, the global headquarters of international sports federations and the International Olympic Committee. It is subject to the Swiss Civil Code and will be arbitrated by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, also in Lausanne. This is a major step towards securing recognition of poker’s status as a sport.

The IFP’s goals are broader than those of other poker organizations. Current organizations have very specific interests which the IFP will also be working towards: seeking recognition of poker as a skilled mind-sport and promoting a single unified set of rules to be used in card rooms across the globe. These goals are only part of the broader goal of the IFP, which is to form a comprehensive governing body comprised of national federations from around the world.

Also, the IFP has a well-qualified and dedicated staff working full-time to achieve its goals. Other organizations have been run part-time by very busy people and often fallen by the wayside. The IFP has the resources and manpower to establish itself as a major player on the international poker scene.

PND: The IFP has a strong start with seven national federations already members. Is there a goal in number of national federations to bring onboard or is it more quality-based?

Holden: One of the early missions of the IFP is to build up a strong membership base from around the world. We have identified governing bodies in more than 20 countries outside of our founding members and we are confident that our membership will grow quickly and steadily in the coming months. We hope to have 30 member nations by the end of this year.

When considering an application, the quality of the federation applying is paramount. The IFP has strict criteria for acceptance as a member: the federation in question must be a non-profit organization that truly represents the interest of poker players in that country and whose goals for the promotion of poker are aligned with those of the IFP. Applications from federations are submitted to the Board for approval by vote.

While we are working hard to secure membership of federations in key markets, the IFP is seeking member federations in all nations, no matter how small or remote. We are in advanced discussions about membership with federations from Germany, Italy, and Kyrgyzstan.

PND: What is the strongest component of the IFP, the overall governing body or the individual national federations that comprise it?

Holden: The IFP is a truly democratic body. Every member nation has one representative on the Congress, the supreme authority of the IFP. The IFP operates a “One Country, One Vote” policy, so no matter what the size of a nation, it participates in the governing of the IFP on an equal footing with all other nations.

PND: What are the challenges that the IFP faces?

AH: The greatest challenge that the IFP faces is the stigma that governments and the non-poker playing public attaches to poker. Government decision-makers see poker solely as a gambling activity and think its place is in a casino alongside craps and roulette. The IFP is seeking to educate people that poker is a skilled mind-sport and so to secure it the legal status it deserves all over the world. All the federations we have met are at different stages in the debate with their governments.

The IFP wishes to see a global coordinated approach to the issue and to provide our members with support and advice. We have had promising talks with the International Mind Sports Association in Paris, currently consisting of the international federations of Bridge, Chess, Draughts, and Go. We are optimistic about joining this organization later in the year, and, once we do, we will have official recognition as a mind-sport. Every four years, the IMSA holds the Mind-Sports Games, alongside and in the same city as the Olympics. The IFP looks forward to the chance to bring poker into this event. Once we achieve this, it will be a very useful tool in many debates.

PND: What attracted you to accept a position with the IFP?

Holden: As a lifelong author and journalist, I’ve been playing poker for 40 years and writing books about it for 20. My first visit to the World Series of Poker (WSOP) was in 1977. In recent years, I have been sponsored by PokerStars at events around Europe as well as the WSOP Main Event. That has now had to stop, alas, as the President of IFP obviously cannot accept sponsorship from any one website. I accepted the job, despite this sacrifice, because I believe the goals of the IFP are so important to the game. It enables me to spend my entire working life around poker, doing something worthwhile. Now that beats writing hands down!

PND: What would you like to see for the IFP before the end of the year?

Holden: We would like to have at least 30 member nations and to hold the first IFP team poker event. We would also like to see our member nations making progress with their national governments in the reclassification of poker from a luck-based gambling activity into a skill-based mind-sport. Finally, the IFP has had promising discussions with the International Mind Sports Association and we would be delighted to join this organization by the end of the year.

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