EU court asked to decide if card game is actual ‘sport’

Spy or sportsman? MI6's finest, James Bond, is one of the more famous bridge players, albeit fictional. [Move Maker/ YouTube]

The European Court of Justice has been asked to rule if the card game bridge is actually a sport, for the purposes of the EU’s VAT Directive.

The English Bridge Union (EBU) is the national body for the game of contract bridge and organises tournaments for fee-paying players. Its attempts to claim back VAT paid on those fees, which it believes it qualifies for under an exemption provided by EU law, have been denied by the UK’s tax authority.

EU VAT legislation allows services “closely linked to sport or physical education” to be granted derogations when carried out by non-profit-making organisations.

The EBU argues that it qualifies for the exemption because sport benefits regular participants through mental and physical activity. It argues that stimulating the mind is just as important as a physical work-out.

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But Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) isn’t buying its justification and has refused its application for VAT exemption. The EBU launched a legal challenge as a result.

The British court where the case was filed referred the issue up to the ECJ after it noted that EU member states have different criteria for what denotes a “sport”.

For example, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France and the Netherlands all agree that for the purposes of the VAT Directive, contract bridge is a sport. But Ireland and Sweden do not.

Bridge and chess, another universally-played ‘mind sport’, have recently tried to gain admittance to the Summer Olympics but both failed to convince the authorities that they should compete at the Tokyo games in 2020.

Chess has even been merged with boxing to create the hybrid sport of chessboxing.

Duplicate contract bridge, to give it its full name, is a trick-playing card game played by four players in two competing partnerships with partners sitting opposite each other around a table. It is the most widely played variant of the game.

Its most famous players include fictional spy James Bond, billionaires Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, rock band Radiohead, the late actor Omar Sharif and even cartoon dog Snoopy.

The Luxembourg court is expected to make a decision on 2 March. Let us know what you think of the debate by voting in the poll below:

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