Will the UK Change Its Tax Rules for Tiger?

All of that fuss over Usain Bolt and now he has a back issue?

Thank goodness he’s not the only mega-rich athlete thinking of playing in the UK these days or the British government might get bored. Now, they’re in talks with European Tour officials about the current tax structure because of noise on the golf circuit about how expensive it is to play in Britain. Michael Platts, the Tour’s director, has said, “These tax rules are discouraging leading sportsmen and sportswomen from competition in Britain.”

And by leading sportsmen and sportswomen, they mean Tiger Woods. Let’s not kid ourselves here. Read on.

Platts went on to say, “Our aim is to attract the best players to provide the best entertainment for our audiences in the U.K. This tax rule is seriously hampering our efforts. Discussions continue to take place with the HMRC and these discussions include the Ryder Cup.”

Reports now indicate that the discussions are that the Ryder Cup would be exempt from the current tax law. Hmm. The Ryder Cup… And that’s making news now, why?

If I had to bet (and I’m not a gambling girl), I’d say that the emphasis on the Ryder Cup is directly related to the golf soap opera that is Tiger Woods. Let’s face it… die hard golf fans have always watched golf on TV. I have a father-in-law who can pretty much back that up (as well as having witnessed some Sunday afternoons at his house myself). But the dabblers watched for the spectacle that is Tiger Woods. And as that spectacle starts to crumble a little, with Tiger threatening not to even make the cut of much PGA play, the golf world is a little bit worried that “every man” won’t watch golf without Tiger. That’s why Tiger playing in the Ryder Cup – even though he is clearly not the best choice right now – is so crucial. Golf, with Tiger, is popular. Golf, without Tiger, not so much.

That also might explain why Corey Pavin said, about Tiger playing in the Ryder as a Captain’s Choice, “Of course I’m going to [pick him]. He’s the best player in the world.” Pavin, in a tweet, later claimed he had been misquoted.

The reality is, however, that Tiger brings an audience – something the golfing world doesn’t want to lose. But at what price? The UK tax system has been heavily criticized by many athletes because of its burden on non-citizen athletes. The UK tax authority, the HMRC, has defended its position noting that the US and Australia have similar tax systems. That argument is, however, not likely to impress US athletes who have seen that the UK is willing to budge on taxes if it means a spectacle (the Olympics come to mind, as well as the Bolt race, as mentioned earlier). The HMRC said, about the tax, “It is only right that where someone comes to work in the U.K. and receives an income, that tax is paid on that income, where it is due. Only the money the sports star earns in the U.K. that is connected to their performances in the U.K. is taxed.”

But then the HMRC may underestimate a culture where the very rich move to avoid taxes in the first place (remind me again why Tiger lives in Florida?).

However, what can’t be disputed is that some athletes attract a level of attention to events that can’t be ignored. It does make you wonder: is it fair? Should athletes and other celebs get tax breaks in exchange for bringing notoriety – and hopefully, extra money – to a particular event?

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  3. Kay

    I think another major motivator is that the UK has rolled over for other big events of late, exempting the 2012 London Olympics and next years Championship Football (soccer) final in Wembley. Golf just wants the same treatment. Sergio Garcia, e.g., will only compete in one UK tourney a year because of the rule and he’s the Tiger of Europe. http://goo.gl/oxM4

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