BRUSSELS (AP) An adviser to the European Union's top court has an official opinion about something that vexes sports fans and card players alike: is a game like bridge a sport? He says yes – at least when it comes to taxes. Advocate General Maciej ...
It is a card game played from the comfort of a chair, most popular with those past their first flush of youth.
Yet bridge is a sport, according to the European Court of Justice’s top adviser, and should be granted the same official status as football, rugby and tennis.
Advocate General Maciej Szpunar said sport is an activity requiring “a certain effort to overcome a challenge or an obstacle” and which “trains a certain physical or mental skill”.
He declared: “To be a sport, it is not necessary that the activity has a certain physical element. It is sufficient that the activity has a significant mental element which is material to its outcome.”
His ruling represents a victory for the English Bridge Union in its long-running bid to see the game gain official recognition as a sport. It also has implications for chess, with the English Chess Federation following the legal case with interest.
The EBU has been battling HMRC in the courts since 2014, arguing that it should receive the tax relief available to sporting bodies. Bridge players are currently charged VAT on entry fees to tournaments.
HMRC bases its criteria on a list supplied by Sport England, the body responsible for funding. Sport England excludes “mind sports” and says sport must entail a level of physical exertion.
However, critics point out that it recognises darts and snooker, sports that can hardly be said to require great physical exertion.
Judges in the High Court and the Court of Appeal backed HMRC. The European Court’s decision will be published in the coming months and will heap pressure on Sport England to review their list.
Other European countries - Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France and the Netherlands - recognise bridge as a sport.
Peter Stockdale, spokesman for the EBU, welcomed the prospect of a tax rebate but said the ruling would have broader implications.
“It would also help us to promote bridge in schools. If it was on a list as a valid sport, we would be able to get many more youngsters playing. It would mean you can be good at sport without having to kick a ball or swing a racquet.
“For some children it will be far more beneficial to their personal development than getting picked last for the football team,” he said.
“We need an influx of younger people and there is an element of ‘cool’ that comes with sport.”
Bridge and chess players have to fund training, facilities and travel to international tournaments with no government support.
Malcolm Pein, international director of the English Chess Federation and the Telegraph's Chess Correspondent, said: “This is very good news. It has implications for VAT exemption, but also gives all mind sports a chance to further lobby Sport England.
“Chess receives no government support. Of course you don’t need a massive amount of equipment, but you do need training. If you want to hire the best trainers, that costs money. Most tournaments take place in eastern Europe so we need to pay for travel. We don’t have the money to let the guys arrive a day early, which is time they really need.
“The game is in the doldrums - we used to be second best in the world at chess, and the last time I looked we were 12th.
“Something like £250,000 would be utterly transformational for chess, yet most sports get vastly greater sums than that.”
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