Definition of a ‘sport’ for VAT purposes – English Bridge Union case

The lengthy litigation by the English Bridge Union, to establish that bridge (the card game) falls within the meaning of ‘sport’ for the purposes of exemptions in group 10, schedule 9, VATA, has reached the end of the road with a disappointing outcome. The Court of Justice (C-90/16) has decided that card games cannot be treated as ‘sport’ for this purpose as the physical element is too negligible.

The Court acknowledged that the game promoted health and exercised the mind.  But it asserted (without resorting to any obvious reasoning) that the ordinary meaning of ‘sport’ could not include something with a negligible physical component.  This may appear to leave open the question of the inclusion of activity which has a more than negligible physical dimension, but which is still predominantly intellectual.  But the Court was only concerned with a discussion of card games, so the question of where the boundary between physical and sedentary sits was not determined as such.  Nonetheless, it is difficult to see much doubt arising on the future interpretation of most cases, since card games and board games (including chess) would have to be regarded as essentially similar in terms of physical activity.

The Court rather oddly referred to the cultural exemption, and intimated that a card game could fall under that if the member state decided to select it as a cultural supply, referring back to the British Film Institute decision in which it decided that states had discretion as to which activities were to be deemed to be ‘culture’.  Since the UK has not included card games in the list, this reference appears to be adding insult to injury.  Any hint that could be inferred, to the effect that the bridge community might lobby for inclusion of its pastime in the list of cultural activities by the UK, is certain to lead down a blind alley.

Graham Elliott is CTG’s Technical Adviser

*This commentary updates an earlier piece reviewing the AG’s Opinion on the same case*



  1. Michael says:

    It would be easier to set out subcategories of sport being physical, mind, electronic etc. and to give these specific definitions that can then be the defining points for each group. In this way the VAT law and other laws need not be changed for “sport”, but the substructure below sport is clarified. Calling chess and bridge a sport without making it clear they are mind sports could/will pave the way for unclear rules and further confusion as vested interests will try to add further activities as sports that have no place there. Language is a complex area, tax doesn’t have to be.

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