In a surprise u-turn, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) have judged against the Advocate General’s opinion and concluded that Bridge is not a sport after all for VAT purposes.

After the June 2017 Advocate General’s opinion was released, the English Bridge Union (EBU) were looking forward to the CJEU judgement in The English Bridge Union Limited v HMRC [2017] C-90/16, with expectation being that the CJEU would follow the Advocate General’s opinion and judge that Bridge was a sport.

If found to be a sport, the EBU would be able to exempt its entry fees and were also, subject to any unjust enrichment defence, be in for a large VAT refund.

Perhaps surprisingly, the CJEU did not follow the Advocate General’s June 2017 opinion and judged that it was not a sport and therefore entry fees for competitions were not VAT exempt.

EBU’s appeal was originally dismissed by the First-Tier Tribunal (FTT), and the Upper Tribunal (UT) asked the European Court whether the use of high-level mental skills was sufficient for Bridge to meet the definition of a sport for VAT.

The CJEU have confirmed that the definition or concept of ‘sport’ should be determined by considering its usual meaning in everyday language:

  • For VAT purposes, ‘sport’ is limited to activities which have more than a negligible physical element.
  • The fact that it may promote physical and mental health is not sufficient on its own for it to be considered a ‘sport’.

The CJEU did however, state that in some cases, an activity with negligible physical activity, may be so important to a country’s history and traditions that it would be considered part of its culture and may meet the ‘cultural services’ exemption instead.


Bridge is a sport for VAT

VAT reclaims and unjust enrichment

External link: The English Bridge Union Limited v HMRC [2017] C-90/16


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