Case C-90/16, The English Bridge Union – a card game is a sport

An English court has asked the CJEU if a card game is a sport.

There is a card game known as bridge.

In England, players pay to enter bridge tournaments. The entrance fee money goes to the English Bridge Union. In the year 2012-2013, the EBU made £631 000 from fees. The UK’s tax office (The Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) claims that this money is liable to Value Added Tax.

The organisers of the card game deny this. They point out that for the purposes of EU VAT law bridge is a sport. Their submission rests on the following points.

After the CJEU’s judgment in C-18/12 Město Žamberk, the concept of ‘sport’ is an autonomous concept in EU law.

The VAT exemption for sport is designed to encourage large sections of the population to participate in activities in the public interest.

Bridge is in the public interest because it provides social and health benefits. Consequently, it is consistent with the aim of the VAT Directive to exempt bridge tournament fees from VAT.

In response, the UK’s tax office emphasises that exemptions to EU Directives are to be interpreted restrictively.

Faced with evidence that some Member States did levy VAT on fees that were paid to enter bridge tournaments, Mrs Justice Asplin and the Upper Tribunal Judge Rodger Berner of the Tax and Chancery Chamber decided that a preliminary reference to the CJEU was on the cards.

Questions Referred
The Official Journal has yet to publish the final version of the questions asked by the Tax and Chancery Chamber.

The VAT exemption for sport is rather important. On 25 February 2016, the Dutch State lost a court case on the scope of the exemption. The case had concerned whether canal moorings for pleasure cruisers, or other places where boats could be stored, could benefit from the exemption; see further, Commission v Netherlands, ECLI:EU:C:2016:118.

Update – 11 June 2016
According to the Curia website, the Tax and Chancery Chamber has asked:

What are the essential characteristics which an activity must exhibit in order for it to be a “sport” within the meaning of article 132(1)(m) of Council Directive 2006/112/EC […] of 28th November 2006 (“the Principal VAT Directive”)? In particular must an activity have a significant (or not insignificant) physical element which is material to its outcome or is it sufficient that it has a significant mental element which is material to its outcome?

Is duplicate contract bridge a “sport” within article 132(1)(m) of the Principal VAT Directive?

Update – 19 February 2017
The Fourth Chamber is due to hear this case on 2 March 2017.