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Bridge not a sport, rules tribunal
Playing contract bridge might make you break out in a sweat - but it does not constitute a sport, a tax tribunal has ruled.
The trick-taking card game involving the use of "high-level" mental skills and played in competing partnerships cannot be exempt from VAT charges on competition entry fees as if it were a sport, the first tier tribunal tax chamber said.
Around 300,000 people are said to play the game regularly in Britain and the English Bridge Union (EBU) had appealed against an HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) refusal to repay VAT on competition entry fees for the period between June 2008 and December 31 2011.
The union told the tribunal that the Charity Commission and the International Olympic Committee recognised bridge as a sport.
It added that HMRC recognised sports where physical skill or activity plays "second fiddle", including croquet, darts, billiards, flying and gliding.
EBU treasurer Dr John Petrie added that emails he had received from bridge organisations in France, Holland, Belgium Ireland and Poland indicated that no VAT was charged on their entry fees.
"Playing bridge involves the use of high-level mental skills - logic, lateral thinking, planning memory, sequencing and others," he said.
"Playing bridge regularly promotes both mental and physical health and studies have shown that it may benefit the immune system and reduce the chance of developing Alzheimer's disease and of mental deterioration."
But the tribunal judge Charles Hellier ruled: "To our minds, sport normally connotes a game with an athletic element rather than simply a game."
He added: "Contract bridge involves some physical activity, but not a significant amount. The physical activity is not the aim of participation, and physical skill, as opposed to purely mental skill, is not particularly important to the outcome of participation."
The EBU, which organises a "large number" of duplicate bridge competitions, said its 2012/13 total entry fee income alone was £631,000.