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In various sports, a forfeit is a method in which a match automatically ends, and the forfeiting team loses.
There are two distinct forms of forfeiture. One occurs when a team is unable (or refuses) to meet the basic standards for playing the game, either before the game begins or as a result of actions that happen during the match. In such a case, the team not forfeiting wins the match. Another is punitive forfeiture, in which a team has been found to have broken the rules of a sanctioning body during a match they have won and must have the results stricken from the record; whether or not the other team receives a win in such a case depends on the rules of that body.
Both teams must have at least seven players at the beginning of the match per the Laws of the Game. When a team has fewer than seven players, the match cannot start or continue. When the number of players in a team falls definitely below seven (e.g. by five players sent off with red cards, or by injured players with no substitutions left, or a combination of both), the match is forfeited. Forfeits are also used as ex post disciplinary sanctions by governing bodies.
A forfeited match is handled differently in various competitions; FIFA Disciplinary Code punishes the team sanctioned with a forfeit with a 3–0 loss (but the result on the pitch is upheld if the goal difference at the end of the match was three or greater).
Forfeited games also could be identified with what is known as a "technical score" like +/-, +:-, where a plus sign (+) signifies a win and a minus sign (-) stands for a loss. Traditionally, technical score is implied as 3:0 score, but earlier in history it also used to be understood as 2:0 score. Beside forfeiture, technical score could be applied for disciplinary sanctions on various of administrative matter such as violence on the field, use of ineligible players, others. Because it is a "cabinet" score, unless specified in season's (league's) regulations or official executive decision of governing sports organization, the technical score not necessarily has to carry any numerical value.
In rare cases, baseball games are forfeited, usually in the event when a team is no longer able to play.
In the basketball rules published by FIBA, a forfeit and a default are two different things.
A team will forfeit if:
- Fifteen minutes after the scheduled starting time, the team is not present or is unable to field five players ready to play.
- Its actions prevent the game from being played.
- It refuses to play after being instructed to do so by the referee.
A forfeit results in loss for the offending team by a score of 20−0, and in tournaments that use the FIBA points system for standings, zero points for the match. Furthermore, in FIBA tournaments that use a two-game home-and-away series (two-legged tie) or a best-of-three playoff format, a team that forfeits a game also loses the series by forfeit.
In FIBA tournaments, a team will default if, at any time during a game, they have less than two players ready to play (by reason of players being injured, fouling out or being ejected). In this case, the opponents are awarded with a win, and if they are leading, the score at the time of stoppage will be the final score; if they are not leading, they are awarded a 2−0 win.
In tournaments that use the FIBA points system for standings, a team that lost by default earns 1 point the FIBA points system for standings. Furthermore, in FIBA tournaments that use a two-game home-and-away series, a team that defaults in either game automatically loses the series by default, earning 1 point for the series.
In tournaments and leagues that use winning percentage to rank teams, the difference between a forfeit and a default is negligible. However, for those that use the FIBA points system, a default is treated like an ordinary loss (as the team earns one point) while a team that forfeited earns zero points.
It is also detrimental in tiebreaking situations as a defaulting team's worst result is the actual score if they were trailing when the game was stopped, or a 2–0 loss if they were leading, while a forfeit is deemed to be a 0–20 loss, which drags down a team's goal average worse than a 0–2 loss would.
In U.S. NCAA basketball, a referee decides a game is to be forfeited when any of these criteria are satisfied:
- Any player, squad member or bench personnel fails to comply with any technical foul penalty and/or makes a travesty of the game.
- When conditions warrant.
- A team refuses to play after being instructed to do so by an official.
The forfeiting team loses the game 2−0 unless 30 minutes have elapsed on the game clock; in this case, the score at the end of play shall stand. If the team that is behind in the scorebook is to be declared the winning team, that score shall be marked with an asterisk in the official statistics, and it shall be noted that the game was won by forfeit.
In March 2015, a women's basketball game between Southern and Texas Southern was declared a double forfeit by the officials because of a brawl 30 minutes into the game; however, the conference declared Southern, who was leading the game 51-49 when it was abandoned, the winner. It is somewhat unclear if the NCAA recognizes Southern as the winner or if they recognize the game as a double forfeit.
The rules of the National Basketball Association do not mention how forfeitures are dealt with, but mention it is a possible sanction on a player or coach who violates the rules on ejections. Also, in the NBA, defaulting is virtually impossible unless injuries or ejections bring a team to fewer than five players.
When five players remain in a game and one fouls out, the player remains in the game and the player is in a player foul penalty situation. The rule also applies when (after an injury) a player who fouled out of the game previously returns to the game, where re-entering the game after fouling out places the player in the player foul penalty, resulting in a non-unsportsmanlike conduct technical foul (may not be ejected). One free throw is awarded, regardless of offensive or defensive foul or re-entry caused by injury.
Under National Hockey League rules, a team forfeits a game when they fail to comply with the rules to an extent that the Referee or the Commissioner of the league (or his designee) refuses to allow the game to continue because of that team's actions. If the game is forfeited prior to the start of the game, the result will be a 1-0 victory to the non-offending team; however, no players will be credited with any personal statistics.
If the game was in progress at the time it is declared forfeited, the score shall be recorded as zero for the loser and 1, or the number of goals scored, to the winning team. All players will be credited with any personal statistics earned until the game was forfeited.
Under IIHF rules, a team will forfeit the game if:
- A team that refuses to begin play with the prescribed number of players on ice,
- A team will forfeit the game to its opponent if it cannot place the required number of players on the ice during the course of a game because of penalties and injuries.
- If a team declines to participate in the penalty-shot shootout or,
- If a team repeatedly refuses to start play after being ordered to do so by the referee.
There is no rule pertaining to the procedure as to how a forfeited game is to be scored.
A forfeit occurs when a player does not appear at the match, and is generally a rare occurrence. A notable instance of forfeiture happened in the second game of the 1972 World Chess Championship. Bobby Fischer, due to disputes over the organisation of the match, refused to show, and the game was recorded as a win for his opponent Boris Spassky.
In the Gaelic games of hurling, Gaelic football, camogie and ladies' Gaelic football, a forfeit is called a walkover (Irish: bua gan choimhlint). The team that concedes a game in a competition may receive further punishment, such as a fine, deduction of league points, automatic relegation or elimination from a competition.
The most famous walkover in GAA history came in the 1910 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final. Louth were awarded the championship as Kerry refused to travel to Dublin for the final because the Great Southern and Western Railway would not grant fans, players and officials discounted fares for the trip.
In American football, a team must begin with at least seven players (the number legally required to man a line of scrimmage) ready to play; a forfeiture occurs if a team does not have that many. It can also occur when the number of able players drops to below seven at any point during the game, as a result of an unfair act, or punitive retroactive sanctions against a team from a governing body such as the NCAA.
In the event the team forfeiting the game is already losing at the time of the forfeit, the score at the time stands as is. Otherwise, forfeits result in a 2–0 score in the National Football League or a 1–0 score in high school football, NCAA and Canadian football.
In the case of high school and the NCAA, the forfeit is one of only two ways for a team to finish with a score of only one point (the other theoretical possibility is if a team's only score comes from a defensive safety, i.e. a botched conversion attempt that results in their opponent getting backed all the way back into their own end zone).
The National Football League rulebook has a provision for forfeiture but has never used it (there was at least one alleged "forfeit" in the 1921 NFL season, but because league schedules were so fluid in the 1920s and it was never clear who was at fault for the game not being played, the league now considers it a cancellation, which was very common at the time). Former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle noted that he had never used the league's forfeit provisions and would never change the result of a game after the fact, a stance that prevented the result of the Snowplow Game, a game that had been decided on an alleged but unpunished unfair act, from being forfeited.  The NFL threatened forfeiture during the 2020 NFL season if coronavirus-related protocols were not adhered to. NFL policy states that the winning team is not paid their weekly salary if their opponent forfeits the game.
The NCAA also uses punitive forfeiture in other sports. The Arena Football League has had one forfeit in its history, which came in 2012 as a result of a player's strike. In another case in 2015, two teams ceased operations prior to the end of the season, and because they were both slated to play each other, the game was recorded as a scoreless tie.
A related concept is to vacate results, in which a team's wins are stricken from the record. NCAA bylaws allow wins to be vacated as a form of punishment, although the NFL does not. Note that a loss is not put in place of a vacated win, and a win is not retroactively awarded to the losing team if vacated by the winning team. Once a team loses a game, even if the winning team's victory is later vacated, it is still considered a loss.
In cases where a poker game is arranged but an opponent drops out or folds (a fold is when a player gives up for multiple reasons), that person forfeits and remaining players win at that player's expense.
- IFAB: Laws of the Game 2016/2017, Law 3
- "FIFA Disciplinary Code" (PDF). FIFA. 2011. p. 21. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
- "Bobby Fischer Forfeits Second Chess Game". The Harvard Crimson. 14 July 1972. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
- FIDE/ACP Anti-Cheating Committee (November 2014). "Anti-Cheating Guidelines" (PDF). p. 13. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
- "Board to investigate increasing fines for clubs failing to field teams in the League".
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 October 2016. Retrieved 17 May 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "General Rules for Football League Competitions 2016" (PDF). Celbridge GAA.
- "The Kerry Footballers Strike of 1910". www.terracetalk.com.
- "Historic Louth All Ireland-winning medals set to go under the hammer".
- Felder, Roger (14 August 2019). "Art. 26. Wertung der Spiele" (PDF; 758 KB). Swiss Handball Association (in German). p. 29. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 December 2019. Retrieved 15 December 2019.