Club Management Focus: Summer 2015

Bridge as a sport

From the EBU press release on the subject

The English Bridge Union’s (EBU) case for bridge to be considered a sport for VAT purposes has been referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

In the Upper Tribunal of the Tax and Chancery Chamber, on 14th July, Mrs Justice Asplin and Judge Roger Berner decided that the case should be referred to the CJEU to ensure that the intention of the EU article which gives tax exemption to sport is properly followed.

The case was originally dismissed by a First-Tier Tribunal in February 2014 on the grounds that bridge was not sufficiently ‘active’ to be considered what was traditionally defined as a ‘sport’. Representing the EBU at the Upper Tribunal, David Ewart QC argued that the literal interpretation of the language used was less important than the purpose of the legislation, as the granting of VAT exemption was intended not to support only ‘physical activities’ but instead to encourage participation in all activities with social and health benefits. The Upper Tribunal acknowledged that playing bridge provides these benefits, as well as recognising that other EU countries, including France, Netherlands, Belgium and Poland, granted VAT exemption to bridge on these grounds. They noted that there was no legal precedent on which they could base a ruling, so therefore referred the case to the CJEU for a judgement on the true meaning of the legislation.

Bridge is recognised as a sport in the UK by the Charity Commission, which considers sport to be any activity which promotes health involving physical or mental skill or exertion, however this definition is not currently used by other government and government-funded bodies. Bridge is viewed by the International Olympic Committee as a sport, and the World Bridge Federation was recently invited to submit an application for bridge to be considered for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Although that application was unsuccessful, bridge will be included in the 2018 Asian Games and 2017 South-East Asian Games.

In September a Judicial Review will take place of Sport England’s refusal to recognise bridge as a sport, a case brought by the EBU as Sport England uses a similar narrow definition of ‘sport’ as those activities requiring physical exertion, rather than the broader, more inclusive definition adopted by other organisations. The EBU believes recognition of bridge as a sport would allow for the promotion and funding of bridge activities, particularly amongst children and older people, and this would have a similar level of public benefit as the support of other ‘sports’. Bridge has been shown to have significant benefits for retirees, helping in maintaining both cognitive functions and social inclusion, and also aids in the social and academic development of young people.

In reference to the decision to refer the VAT appeal to the Court of Justice of the European Union, EBU Chairman, Jeremy Dhondy, said “I'm very glad the tribunal recognised that we have a sound case and hope that the hearing in Luxembourg will result in a just decision that will benefit all members of the English Bridge Union”.