Yorkshire Chess Association Year Book






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Accuracy of club information &

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English County Championship 1921

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Bridge (and so Chess) Not a Sport for VAT Purposes


The main (only?) reason for seeking classification of chess as a “sport” is to obtain those financial advantages which accrue to an activity being regarded as a “sport”, such as exemption from VAT with regard to certain transactions.  In this context chess is very similar to bridge.


Some time ago, the English Bridge Union lodged an appeal with the Court of Justice of the European Union (“Curia”) against Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ stance that bridge tournaments were liable to VAT, though they could be exempt if bridge were regarded as a “sport”.  (Obviously turnover needs to reach the appropriate level to trigger liability for VAT.)


The European Court of Justice’s Advocate General had “recommended” bridge be ruled as appropriate for classification as a sport for VAT purposes, but on 26/102017 the Court went against that recommendation and ruled that bridge did not fall within the scope of the term “sport” as used in EU Directive 2006/112 on the common system of VAT.


The Court was not being asked “to determine the meaning of ‘sport’ in general, but to interpret it in the context of Directive 2006/112”, which the Court regarded as implying a significant degree of physical activity.


The big problem is that laws and Directives invoke the term “sport” without defining it.  Is it the degree of physical activity which counts or the aspect of recreational competition that counts?  Perhaps the laws and Directives should be worded in terms not hinging solely on the one word “sport”.  It’s like having legislation depending on the meaning of  the word “art”.  The official report said:


“For want of any definition at all in Directive 2006/112 of the concept of ‘sport’, the meaning and scope of that term must, as the Court has consistently held, be determined by considering its usual meaning in everyday language, while also taking into account the context in which it is used and the purposes of the rules of which it is part.”


The ECF had been hoping that the Court would rule that bridge was a “sport” for VAT purposes, and that there would be a knock-on effect for chess, with reduced costs to players and organisations, and the possibility of a rebate on past VAT payments!


A flimsy-looking alternative avenue was indicated in the following:


“That interpretation is without prejudice to the question whether an activity with a physical element that appears to be negligible may, where appropriate, be covered by the concept of ‘cultural services’ within the meaning of Article 132(1)(n) of the directive, if the activity, in the light of the way in which it is practised, its history and the traditions to which it belongs, in a given Member State, holds such a place in the social and cultural heritage of that country that it may be regarded as forming part of its culture. In that regard, the Court has held that the corresponding provision in Directive 77/388 allowed the Member States a discretion in determining the cultural services exempted (see, to that effect, judgment of 15 February 2017, British Film Institute, C592/15, EU:C:2017:117, paragraph 24).”


The activities of the EBU and the ECF are hardly ‘cultural services’ as described.


An official report on the case is to be found at http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=196124&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=1590575&utm_source=October+Newsletter&utm_campaign=Email&utm_medium=email.