A blog post

The Olympics As A Tax Haven

Posted on the 01 August, 2012 at 3:21 pm Written by in Taxes

As you probably know, the summer Olympics began last week. For a while, east London will be the newest tax haven going.

The basic UK individual income tax rate is 20%, although incomes over 150,000 pounds are taxed at 50%.  The basic corporate tax rate is 24% and a bargain compared to the U.S. corporate rate of 35%.

The UK does have a VAT of 20%, so it is unfair to compare only income taxes.

The “London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Tax Regulations 2010” exempt the earnings of Olympic athletes and foreign nationals working on Games –related activity, such as judges, journalists and representatives of sports bodies. The Regulations do not exempt construction workers at the sites, nor do they exempt UK residents. The exemption is solely for nonresidents.

The exemption also extends to non-resident companies doing business at the Olympic sites. There has been pressure on companies to forego the tax holiday. Both McDonald’s and Coca Cola have declined the tax break, while General Electric said that all Olympic activities are being done through resident companies and therefore are not eligible for the tax holiday.

What was the reason for this break?

I am unsure about the corporate tax holiday, but the individual tax holiday is easy to understand. The UK’s general tax rule is to tax a proportion of an athlete’s earnings. The proportion is the number of UK appearance days to total annual appearance days. As an example, say a tennis player competes at the Olympics for a week and for 35 days in total during 2012.  The general rule is that 20% of the tennis player’s earnings would be subject to UK tax. That may or may not be fair. The general rule assumes that appearance earnings are proportional.

But it gets worse. The UK will tax both the athlete’s performance and endorsement income. Take someone with significant endorsement income – say Usain Bolt – and this can get expensive. It is the reason Usain Bolt had not previously set foot on a British track since 2009. Golfer Sergio Garcia has admitted to limiting his British appearances because of this tax. It is also the reason that Wembley Stadium lost its bid for the 2010 Football (that is, soccer) Champions League. 

So, HMRC waived the rule and created a temporary tax haven for the Olympic Games.

There has been controversy over the tax holiday, with pressure groups arguing that the holiday was unnecessary if not unjust. Just and unjust are slippery terms, but the general argument is that for-profit activities – whether corporate or athlete – should pay whatever taxes the host country deems to implement. The host country should be able to recoup the cost of its Olympic facilities, for example. Seems reasonable. Tax holidays however have become a factor in the IOC decision process. The unwelcome fact is that east London may not have had the Olympics without the holiday.

Should you be going to England during the first week of August, you may want to consider the Bristol Tax Avoidance Olympics on August 4th. In the spirit of protest, the events will include:

  • Cooking the books
  • Jumping through the tax loopholes
  • Avoiding the taxman
  • Hide (your profits) and seek