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CJEU: English Bridge Union Limited v Commissioners for HMRC

However, the Court does not preclude Member States from regarding duplicate bridge as coming under the concept of ‘cultural services’ within the meaning of the directive

The English Bridge Union (EBU) is a national body responsible for regulating and developing duplicate bridge in England. That card game is a form of bridge played competitively at national and international level, in which each partnership successively plays the same deal as their counterparts at other tables. Scoring is thus based on relative performance.

The EBU organises duplicate bridge tournaments and charges players an entry fee to participate. It pays VAT on those fees. The EBU made an application for repayment of that tax under the VAT Directive. It is of the opinion that it should benefit from the exemptions allowed by the directive in respect of the supply of certain services closely linked to sport or physical education. 

The tax authority rejected the application, on the ground that the provisions pursuant to which the supply of certain services ‘closely linked to sport or physical education’ are exempt mean that a ‘sport’ within the meaning of that provision must have a significant physical element.

The EBU lodged an action against the decision of the tax authority, which was rejected. Hearing the case on appeal, the Upper Tribunal (Tax and Chancery Chamber), stating that duplicate bridge involves the use of high-level mental skills, asks the Court of Justice whether it constitutes a ‘sport’ within the meaning of the directive.

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