The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has ruled that the card game bridge is not a sport.
The English Bridge Union (EBU), the national body responsible for regulating bridge played competitively at the national and international level, must therefore continue to pay VAT.
The EBU oversees duplicate bridge tournaments, where teams of two successively play the same deal as their counterparts at other tables. Scoring is based on relative performance.
Earlier this year, the EBU made an application to be exempt from the VAT it is forced to pay because it charges players to participate, insisting that bridge should be classified as a competitive sport.
Bridge requires “high-level mental skills,” which should be accounted for in the legal definition of a sport, according to the EBU.
However, the tax authority rejected the application, on the grounds that bridge is not a sport because it lacks a “significant physical element.”
The ruling published on Thursday said the tax authority was correct in its judgment, adding that the Court’s role is “not to determine the meaning of ‘sport’ in general, but to interpret it in the context of the VAT Directive.”
While admitting that duplicate bridge involves logic, memory and planning, and may constitute an activity beneficial to the mental and physical health of regular participants, the Court finds that the fact that an activity promotes physical and mental health is not, of itself, a sufficient element for it to be concluded that that activity is covered by the concept of ‘sport’ within the meaning of that same provision.
“The fact that an activity promoting physical and mental well-being is practised competitively does not lead to a different conclusion,” it added.
The EBU has about 55,000 members, while as many as 300,000 people play the card game on a regular basis across the UK.
Bridge is recognised as a sport and therefore not subject to VAT in Poland, the Netherlands, Ireland, France and Belgium.