BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top court ruled Thursday on a topic that vexes sports fans and card players alike: Is a game like bridge a sport?
The answer: When it comes to taxes, no sweat, no sport.
The European Court of Justice announced in its ruling that “bridge, which is characterized by a physical element that appears to be negligible, is not covered by the concept of ‘sport.'”
The English Bridge Union, which has some 55,000 members, wanted a tax exemption linked to sports so that entrance fees to tournaments can become more affordable. British courts and officials have already refused, claiming a sport must have a significant element of physical activity.
The European court agreed, saying that when considering value-added tax exemptions, sports should be “characterized by a not negligible physical element.”
The court’s ruling disregarded the initial advice of its advocate general — an exceptional but not unique occurrence at the highest court in the 28-nation bloc.
It left the English Bridge Union distraught.
“That bridge incorporated many of the attributes of more recognized ‘sports’, such as organized competition, training, and exertion, was not deemed sufficient,” it said.
The body said the ruling would hit poorer players especially hard.
“A large percentage of bridge players are from groups with limited disposable income — the retired, and those in full-time education. Making the game cheaper for them to play would increase their levels of participation,” it said.
Britain’s tax office said it welcomed the European court’s ruling, which it said confirmed its views about bridge.
EU nations have different tax rules related to whether or not bridge is recognized as a sport. Thursday’s decision could now negatively affect bridge organizations in countries apart from Britain.