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Bridge is a game and not a sport rules tribunal

The English Bridge Union (EBU) failed in its bid to reclaim VAT on £631,000 of tournament fees after a lower tier tax tribunal ruled that bridge was a game rather than a sport.

They went to tribunal to appeal against HMRC’s refusal to repay VAT on competition entry fees it raised between 30 June 2008 and 31 December 2011. HMRC argued that under the European VAT directive and UK law, contract bridge was not a sport, so competition fees were not a VATable supply.

Stuart Coleman, Manager of the Tax Department of ABDS comments:
“The EBU submitted correspondence to the tribunal from French, Dutch, Belgian, Irish and Polish bridge bodies explaining that VAT was not charged on entry fees in their countries. The union’s barrister also pointed out that bridge was recognised as a sport by the Olympic Committee. He also cited HMRC’s VAT reference notice 701/45, which includes activities such as croquet, darts, billiards, flying and gliding, where physical activity plays second fiddle to mental skill. The natural meaning of “sport” is not limited to activities which principally involve physical skill or exertion. However, this was to no avail.”

HMRC countered that sport was something that involves physical activity or physical fitness and that the European article defining the exemption was intended to promote physical and mental health. The department’s barrister characterised the EBU’s arguments as trying to squeeze “what cannot get in through the front door in through the back”.

The arguments bore all the hallmarks of a classic British legal showdown and were likened by commentators to the great biscuit/cake debate at the centre of the 1991 United Biscuits Jaffa Cake case.

At the end of their deliberations, the judges sided with HMRC and concluded that the normal English meaning of “sport” involves a significant element of physical activity: “To our minds sport normally connotes a game with an athletic element rather than simply a game.”

If you need any help and advice with VAT or other tax matters, contact Lavinia Newman Stuart Coleman or Tonmoy Kumar now to discuss how ABDS can help bring their experience to these matters.

ABDS Chartered Certified Accountants of Southampton.
Tel: 023 8083 6900  E-mail:

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