Moves to levy VAT on five-a-side football teams have provoked an angry row within the Government, a leaked letter obtained by i has disclosed.
Hugh Robertson, the Sports Minister, has protested to colleagues the levy could hit efforts to use the London Olympics to inspire more people to take regular physical exercise.
Under the plan, HM Revenue and Customs is demanding VAT at 20 per cent from companies operating all-weather pitches at more than 150 sites in Britain.
The levy will add about £1 to the typical £4.50 cost of playing five-, six- or seven-a-side matches – or £100 a year for adults playing twice a week.
But Robertson has protested to David Gauke, the Treasury Minister, over the "detrimental effect VAT on small-sided football leagues could have on the sport".
In the letter, he echoes the fears of Sport England that the increase will halt plans to build all-weather pitches – and that some existing centres could be forced to close.
Robertson writes: "Small-sided football participation is increasing, which is great. We want this to continue, thereby assisting in achieving our Olympic legacy commitment.
"Small-sided football is one of our three greatest participation growth areas. If would be greatly appreciated if HMRC could take a more balanced/lenient view!"
For more than 20 years, five-a-side centres have not attracted VAT as their operators believed they were only supplying the land to sports teams. But the HMRC has ruled the pitches are being hired from commercial concerns that are also organising mini-leagues. It said such businesses should always have been subject to tax.
More than 500,000 children are estimated to use such facilities free every week, with the number expected to double within a decade.
The move has been widely condemned, with former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp branding the decision "absolutely disgusting", adding: "It's hard enough to get kids to switch off their computer games and play in the fresh air – yet this makes it even harder."
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Barry Hunter, the chief executive officer of the PlayFootball chain of small-sided football centres, said: "With the Government's current emphasis on maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle, it seems counterproductive to tax such a popular grass-roots sport."Reuse content