Bridge is not a sport, rules EU’s top court

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Oct 27, 2017
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The English Bridge Union had claimed that bridge qualified for VAT relief on tournament entry fees

The game of bridge may flex the intellectual muscles but the EU’s top court has ruled that it is not a sport because it involves “negligible” physical activity.

The Court of Justice of the EU ruled that the mental gymnastics, logic and memory skills that have made bridge one of the world’s most popular card games were not enough to classify the game as a sport.

The ruling, which overturns a recommendation in June 2017 from the court’s own legal adviser, is a blow to the English Bridge Union, which had claimed that as a sport, bridge qualified for VAT relief on tournament entry fees.

However the court ruled yesterday that for the purposes of VAT rules, the ordinary meaning of sport should apply, namely activities that are “characterised by a not negligible physical element”.

It said: “The court concludes that an activity such as duplicate bridge, which is characterised by a physical element that appears to be negligible, is not covered by the concept of ‘sport’ within the meaning of the VAT Directive.” Duplicate bridge is a variation on traditional contract bridge that is widely used in competitions.

However, devoted players could still have a trick up their sleeve: the court said its ruling did not preclude that the game could be covered by another VAT exemption for “cultural services”. 

Lawyers were relatively unsympathetic to bridge players. Mark Stephens, a partner at the London law firm Howard Kennedy, said: “Court time has been wasted in this case. Of course bridge isn’t a sport — it’s barely snap — and it is not entitled to tax relief.

“The ruling means that all of those bridge players pumping iron in preparation for international competition will now have to pay the taxman his fair share.”

Adam Leadercramer, partner at Onside Law, a sport specialist law firm, said: “Linking sport to physical activity is an established view, so the court’s ruling is in line with thinking elsewhere.”

Leadercramer said the Charity Commission took the view that for a sport to qualify for charitable status it must be capable of improving fitness levels.

However, the lawyer said there was speculation that the International Olympic Committee could approve so-called e-sport — playing computer games, in other words — for a forthcoming Olympic games. “That demonstrates that some international bodies are potentially taking a broader view,” he said.

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