A Bridge too far: English Bridge Union loses VAT appeal to European Court of Justice

The Court of Justice for the European Union ruled at the end of October that the trick card playing game duplicate bridge should not be considered a sport for VAT purposes.

The English Bridge Union (EBU) charges participants of its competitions entrance fees, paying VAT on these fees. The body sought to challenge this VAT imposition in the UK’s Upper Tribunal Court, who referred to the Court of Justice whether duplicate bridge should be considered a sport for VAT purposes.

The supply of certain services closely linked to sport by non-profit making bodies to participants is exempt from VAT under Article 132(1)(m) Directive 2006/112/EC. The EBU argued that bridge constitutes a sport for reasons including its competitive nature and the fact that the activity was beneficial for mental and physical health. Indeed, this approach was adopted and endorsed by Advocate General Szpunar who suggested that sport was intended to be understood as the ‘training of mental or physical fitness in a way that is generally beneficial to the health and well-being of citizens’.

The Court of Justice, however, focused on the negligible physical element involved in competing in bridge. The court held that, if there does not appear to be a physical element to the activity, its benefits and competitive nature, whilst important, are not sufficient in establishing the activity as a sport.

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PACE adopts draft resolution on sports governance: a warning signal for the autonomy of sport?

In February 2017, Sports Shorts looked at the EU angle on sports governance, particularly the European Parliament’s Resolution on an “integrated approach to Sport Policy: good governance, accessibility and integrity”.  That resolution included a call upon EU member stated to introduce governance conditions on funding, similar to those contained in UK Sport and Sport England’s Code for Sports Governance. In the last week, there have been further developments on sports governance in Europe, as the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (“PACE”), unanimously adopted a draft resolution based on the report “Working towards a framework for modern sports governance”.

The 24-page draft resolution (“DR”) opens with a stark statement that “the crisis in confidence seems nowhere near the end” to the extent that “the sport movement cannot be left to resolve its failures alone”.  The DR expressly “upholds the importance for sports to enjoy autonomy; yet autonomy triggers responsibility and should be allowed to flourish only where there is good governance in practice”.  Key points in the DR include:

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Yellow-card suspensions in football: Correct me if I’m wrong, but…

Last weekend’s Premier League fixture between Bournemouth and Southampton saw Bournemouth defender Adam Smith receive a controversial yellow card for simulation. Smith alleged that referee Jonathan Moss admitted he made a mistake and conceded he should in fact have awarded a penalty. Aside from the obvious implications that the decision may have had for the outcome of the game – which ended in a 1-1 draw – it means Smith has now picked-up five yellow cards and is consequently suspended from Bournemouth’s game against Crystal Palace at the weekend.

Surely, if the referee subsequently admits he made an error of judgement, at the very least Smith’s suspension could and should be annulled?

What can a player do if wrongly cautioned?

To consider this question, it fits to start by looking at the implications for a player dismissed for receiving a straight red card, the most severe punishment a referee can administer. It is unlikely to come as any surprise that the player affected may challenge his dismissal, or, to be more accurate, he “may seek to limit the disciplinary consequences of the dismissal […] by demonstrating to The Association that the dismissal was wrongful”, for which he must establish that the referee made an “obvious error” (FA Handbook 2017/18, Part 1(5)(a)).

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The Ashes – Jimmy Anderson & Momentum Swing Down Under – Test Match Cricket at its Greatest

Sports Shorts has previously covered the topics of both Test Match cricket generally and the introduction of Day/Night matches to the international arena.

These articles focussed on the difficulties of ensuring Test Match cricket remains relevant and attractive in the modern era of sports consumption and participation where the common theme appears to be less equals more (fan engagement, player participation).

It is with a glad heart then that the ICC’s strategy appears to be paying off with the 7th ever Day/Night test match, the second test in the 2017/18 Ashes Series, finely poised at the end of the fourth day after a series of momentum swings throughout the match so far.

The match has had everything you would want in a Test.

Australia, who were put into pat by England captain Joe Root, appeared to be fully in control after both sides’ first innings, having declared on 442-8 (something they may live to regret) before bowling out England for 227. Three caught and bowled wickets, including an outrageous effort from Nathan Lyons, suggested the Australian’s were moving in for the kill and determined to reclaim the Ashes Urn.

Australia crucially turned down the chance to enforce the follow on. In modern cricket enforcing the follow on is becoming less and less common with bowlers complaining of fatigue and teams more aware of injury than ever before. However, momentum can be everything in Test cricket, each session being vital, and with England on the ropes after the first innings and the chance to place a firm grip on the series, Steven Smith’s decision to rest his bowlers may be another he lives to regret.

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Wednesday 22 November 2017: a day of regulatory breaches to forget for Everton

On 21 November 2017, Sports Shorts reported that the FA had issued its first charge of “Successful Deception of a Match Referee”, the recipient being Everton’s Oumar Niasse.

The FA statement read:

“It is alleged [Niasse] committed an act of simulation which led to a penalty being awarded in the fifth minute of the game.”

Niasse denied the charge against him.  However, since Sports Shorts first wrote about this issue, the FA has confirmed that, following an Independent Regulatory Commission hearing that took place on 22 November 2017, the charge against Niasse was proven. Niasse will now have to serve a two match suspension.   Continue Reading

Oumar Niasse – First Premier League ‘diving’ charge

Following earlier coverage on Sports Shorts about the introduction of the offence of  “Successful Deception of a Match Referee” and details of the first charge, subsequently upheld by way of a two match ban, against Carlisle United’s Shaun Miller, the Premier League has its first ‘diving’ charge.

The recipient is Everton’s Oumar Niasse. An FA statement read:

“It is alleged [Niasse] committed an act of simulation which led to a penalty being awarded in the fifth minute of the game.”

Niasse went down under a challenge from Scott Dann in the Crystal Palace box in the 5th minute of the match leading to teammate Leighton Baines scoring an equaliser (to James McArthur’s goal after 51 seconds, the fastest Premier League goal this season) from the penalty spot.

The match ended in a 2-2 draw with Niasse himself, who was also booked in the 36th minute, scoring the equaliser in stoppage time at the end of the first half.

As previously reported, incidents which suggest a match official has been deceived by an act of simulation are referred to a panel consisting of one ex-match official, one ex-manager and one ex-player.

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RFU announces four year plan and further investment in Women’s Rugby

The first round of rugby union’s Autumn International’s took place last weekend with victories for a free-flowing Ireland team, an all-attacking Scotland team and a somewhat lacklustre England team. Wales were the only home nation to lose to an in form Australia.

Whilst the rugby fest in the men’s game continues over the next three weekend, England’s Women’s team, the Red Roses, get in on the action and start their three test Autumn International Series against Canada this Friday at Saracen’s Allianz Park.

The Red Roses were World Cup winners in 2013 and runners up in 2017 after losing to New Zealand’s Black Ferns 32-41 in August’s showpiece final. The performance of the Red Roses has been a catalyst for growth, inspiring other women and girls to take up the game, with some 10,000 new participants playing competitive rugby since 2013.

Over the past couple of years England’s elite women’s teams, both playing sevens and 15-a-side, have benefited from having professional contracts. In addition, the RFU announced earlier this year an £800,000 investment in a 10 club “Tyrells Premier 15s League”.

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Tokyo 2020 adopts proactive stance on “fake news”: a new reality of running major events

With the 1,000 day countdown to the 2020 Olympic Games now in full swing, it has been reported that the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is actively monitoring social media trends with a view to combating the spread of “fake news”.  The term “fake news” has become something of a phenomenon in recent months and the potential harm it can do has become a major topic of discussion in society. In addition to the wider risks of societal harm, businesses increasingly appear to be falling victim to fake news campaigns, from fake sales promotions to false reports of dangerous products on the market.  Whilst ‘rumours’ and ‘gossip’ have always been potentially damaging, the ability for immediate and widespread dissemination on ‘alternative’ online news platforms makes inaccurate publicity in the modern age a pressing concern.

For a sports event, where public opinion has the potential to drastically influence ticket sales, viewing figures and more, “fake news” has become a highly relevant consideration.  The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee has met this challenge head-on, indicating that its aim is to address factual inaccuracies at an early stage and to engage proactively with public opinion:

“In modern society, the voices of the public can be seen… Therefore we don’t believe that we will be able to spend the next 1,000 days until the opening ceremony unscathed.”

Examples, of this approach in action was its swift responses to criticism regarding the provision of wood by local governments for use in the roof and columns for the Olympic “village plaza”, the opening of the volunteering application system, and an initiative to collect metal from unwanted cellphones and electronic devices to help create the medals.  The Organising Committee was able to monitor negative trends on these topics, respond accordingly and correct inaccuracies and misconceptions at an early stage. From a PR angle, the approach seems thoroughly sensible.

On the legal side, however, when stories based on factual inaccuracies do spread and become more damaging, addressing “fake news” can be tricky.  Indeed, the UK government’s Media and Sport Select Committee launched an inquiry on the subject early this year and the European Commission announced only yesterday that it would also be launching a public consultation on “fake news and disinformation”.  Consultations such as these will aim to assess the impact and risk of so-called “fake news”, identify ways of addressing and/or regulating its dissemination, and enabling individuals to identify fake news for what it is.

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Kostas Manolas – A deliberate yellow card and unsporting conduct.

Tonight sees the first of the play-off matches which will ultimately determine the final European representatives at the FIFA World Cup in Russia in 2018.  The fans of Northern Ireland, Switzerland, Croatia, Greece, Sweden, Italy, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland will all be excitedly following their teams’ progress, hoping that they are able to triumph over the course of the two-legged play-offs and to secure a place in Russia.

In terms of quality of football, the UEFA Champions League may now represent the pinnacle of the game to many fans.  Yet the FIFA World Cup unquestionably remains the highest level of international football.  It retains a certain glamour and provides fans across the world with one month every four years in which they can gorge themselves on a feast of football.

The World Cup also retains a position of importance for players.  Most (if not all) players grew up watching World Cups as youngsters and they still dream of the day that they represent their nation at the apex of international football.  Moreover, as the tournament comes around only every four years, a number of the world’s most talented players will never make it to a World Cup.  This is not a problem that the most gifted players tend to encounter in domestic football: the very best players tend to get a chance to play in UEFA competition at some point in their careers, as the best clubs will seek to sign them.  Yet international football often results in cases where certain players have the requisite skill-set to play at the World Cup but, put simply, their compatriots do not.  As a result, once qualification for a World Cup becomes a reality, players tend to give their very best efforts to secure a place at the tournament.

It is against this background that we consider the curious case of Greek defender Kostas Manolas.

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IOC brings esports to Pyeongchang and confirms esports “could” be a sport: what does this mean for the sporting landscape as we know it?

Many readers will be aware that Sports Shorts has been tracking the development of esports over the last 18 months, particularly its journey towards possible inclusion within the Olympic Movement.  In September 2016, we looked at the relatively recent ‘explosion’ of esports in Europe and the US, the emergence of new governing bodies, and some of the regulatory issues beginning to rear their heads.  In October 2016, we examined the growing trend for ‘traditional’ sports to invest in esports (from NBA teams, to European football teams, and most recently NFL team owners). Then, in April this year, following the announcement of esports as an official medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games, we covered the debate surrounding the move to include esports more fully within the Olympic Movement, a destination which, in August, appeared to be one step closer when Tony Estanguet (co-president of the Paris Olympic bid committee confirmed that he would be discussing the possible inclusion of esports within the 2024 Games).

At that time, the IOC President, Thomas Bach, expressed considerable scepticism as to whether esports could even be considered a sport “with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered a sport” and the absence of an international federation “or a structure that will give us confidence”.

On 28 October, however, the IOC Summit discussed the development of esports and “the current involvement of various Olympic Movement stakeholders”, concluding:

  • “”eSports” are showing strong growth, especially within the youth demographic across different countries, and can provide a platform for engagement with the Olympic Movement.
  • Competitive “eSports” could be considered as a sporting activity, and the players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports.
  • In order to be recognised by the IOC as a sport, the content of “eSports” must not infringe on the Olympic values.
  • A further requirement for recognition by the IOC must be the existence of an organisation guaranteeing compliance with the rules and regulations of the Olympic Movement (anti-doping, betting, manipulation, etc.).”

This was followed, a few days later, by the IOC announcing that, in partnership with one of its TOP sponsors Intel, it will be bringing esports to Pyeongchang “ahead of” the Olympic Winter Games 2018:

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