VAT blow to UK bridge clubs

European judges have ruled that duplicate (tournament) bridge is not a sport, a decision that scuppered British clubs’ hopes of a VAT tax break.

To be classified as a sport under EU tax law, the European Court of Justice said, an activity must have a significant physical element. Bridge, while played competitively at national and international level, is a card game.

The EU’s VAT Directive, which is law in Britain, gives tax breaks to services closely linked to sport. The English Bridge Union (EBU), which organises duplicate bridge tournaments, applied to British tax authorities for a refund on the 20% VAT for the entry fees to its competitions.

It argued that duplicate bridge, which is played in pairs, should be considered a sport for VAT purposes as it promotes physical and mental well-being.

After tax authorities rejected the application, the EBU took them to a UK court, which said bridge was a game of chance rather than a sport. After that was appealed, Britain’s Upper Tribunal asked the European court to clarify whether duplicate bridge could be considered a sport under the terms of the VAT Directive.

In a statement the English Bridge Union (EBU) said: “This decision comes as both a surprise, and a disappointment.

“A positive ruling by the court would have both made participation in bridge competitions cheaper, and would have provided a rebate to the EBU which it could invest in bringing bridge – and the enjoyment and health benefits which participation offers – to a wider audience.”

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