Is there not a word that denotes when a competitor wins by someone else in the tournament refusing to play them or outright quits / steps down?

Isn't there some formal word to denote this type of giving up? I'm not sure but I believe it may also be applicable to when someone is disqualified for whatever reason they yield the rank to the one left standing? Maybe I'm mixing things up.

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    There are two different situations here: (a) the oppenent quits mid-game, (b) the opponent never shows up to play. Both situations can use the term "win by forfeit" but the second situation is sometimes called a "win by default." So I consider both of the current answers correct given your question. – Geoffrey Jan 17 at 22:24
  • Several of the answers below are good. Which one is best for you probably depends on which sport you are thinking of. – Ben Aveling Jan 19 at 11:37
  • Conversely, if you win by quitting, I believe the phrase is quitting while you’re ahead.. But clearly that’s not really a thing that happens in sports generally, under normal rule sets. – Max von Hippel Jan 19 at 17:59
  • Win by forfeit is more to what you're describing (a DNF or giving up mid-match). Win by default is more appropriate when opponent doesn't show up or doesn't engage. However even in this case we'd say the loser "forfeited the match" by not showing up. In general usage though, either win by forfeit or win by default is acceptable. – JoelAZ Jan 19 at 23:46
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    after Steven Bradbury won the gold in the 2002 Winter Olympics speed skating - he was trailing the field but everyone crashed on the final lap except him. – David Waterworth Jan 21 at 21:19

Win by default:

if you win a game or competition by default, you win because the other person does not play or does not finish the game.

(MacMillan Dictionary)

From The Wisconsin Times

Terry McCoy won by default when his opponent refused to wrestle after receiving a minor injury during the match.

From Events, Places and Societies edited by Nicholas Wise, John Harris

Durban's Commonwealth Games 2022 (CWG2022) bid is a unique case study of an event that was “won by default” because the only other competitor, Edmonton, withdrew their bid in February 2015 – citing economic woes, especially the fall in global oil prices (Akinadewo, 2015).

Usage instances of “win by forfeit” vs “win by default” in Google Books

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To win by forfeit.

From MW:

by forfeit


as a result of forfeiting by the opposing side

We won the game by forfeit when the opposing side failed to show up.

From Cambridge:


verb [T]

to give up or lose something because you cannot do something that the rules or the law says you must do:

She had to forfeit the tennis match after she fell and hurt her wrist.

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  • Forfeit was the term always used in the soccer/football leagues of my youth. – javadba Jan 18 at 7:42
  • This is the most-common term for it in American English at least. – Davislor Jan 19 at 22:33

I had originally left this as a comment, because I only thought it applied to tennis. As it turns out, I was mistaken.

If somebody wins because they didn't face an opponent (the opponent never showed up in the first place), it's called a walkover:

1 : a one-sided contest : an easy or uncontested victory
2 : a horse race with only one starter

// Granada will be no walkover for the spurting champions.
— SI.com, "Granada vs. Barcelona Live Stream: Watch Online, TV Channel, Time," 21 Sep. 2019

// There had not been a walkover in a major U.S. stakes race since Coaltown won the Edward Burke Handicap on April 23, 1949.
— Paul Montella, San Diego Union-Tribune, "AP Sportlight," 19 Sep. 2019

It seems to be used more figuratively than literally, but it is definitely used on the scoreboard in tennis to show rounds of a tournament that somebody has won when their opponent didn't show up. From the entry I found, it seems it's actual scoring terminology used in horse racing too (albeit much less commonly than in tennis, or any two-person sport, where only a single contestant need not show up).

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    Isn't its use in tennis also figurative? IIRC the rules of racing meant you have to complete the course to win the prize, so you would walk the horse over it rather than risking injury by galloping, whereas you don't win a tennis match by just walking over the court. – Pete Kirkham Jan 18 at 13:58
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    @PeteKirkham No, not at all. (Also, figurative use here is based on a literal meaning.) I'm used to seeing at least one walkover shown on somebody's scorecard every tournament I've seen. It's very normal scoring terminology. If one player pulls out due to injury before the match, the other gets a walkover listed. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jan 18 at 14:17
  • Unless there is a line which is literally walked over, I fail to see how it is not figurative. Whether it is the official term or not has nothing to do with whether the term is figurative or literal, at least as I understand 'literal'. – Pete Kirkham Jan 19 at 11:54
  • This was going to be my first guess - though I had always assumed a walkover originated in horse racing & was at least at some time in the past executed as a formality that the only competitor should actually walk over the finish line [even if they didn't complete the rest of the distance]. Wikipedia: Walkover would seem to agree with at least part of that memory. – Tetsujin Jan 19 at 15:59
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    @PeteKirkham - In terms of "figurative", I suspect Jason means that most uses are "Team A played Team B, but it was a walkover because Team B were so rubbish"; i.e. in most uses a match does take place, but one team was dominant. – AndyT Jan 20 at 12:13

In addition to the other answers, to win by resignation also works and is in some contexts more widely used. For example, in chess, it's more common to speak of a player who "resigned" rather than "forfeited".

Using "resign" makes it clear that the player actually started a specific game and then admitted defeat, whereas a "forfeit" applies not only to individual games, but to matches (sets of games). Forfeit also can mean either that the player lost by resignation or that they simply did not play and then lost by default.

For example: "Bobby Fischer forfeit the World Champion title to Anatoly Karpov by refusing to play their match." vs. "Bobby Fischer resigned from the game after his opponent made a series of brilliant moves."

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    Resignation, especially with respect to chess, carries the connotation of "admitting that defeat is inevitable". I didn't get that sense from the original question at all. – AndyT Jan 20 at 12:03
  • My answer already includes the fact that "resign" is only applicable if the opponent admits defeat mid-game. The word "quitting" in OP's title, and the fact that OP asks about when an opponent "outright quits / steps down" were enough for me to consider the word "resignation" relevant. Quitting connotes starting before stopping. – Asker Feb 5 at 20:31


I didn't see this addeessed as it relates to combat sports, or wrestling. I would consider a tap out, or submission to be the opponent quiting. Typically a fighter will tap (rapid, successive tapping on their opponent, or elswhere if they can't tap the opponent), which signifies to the referee/official that they are quitting, and to stop the fight.. There is also such a thing as a "verbal tap", which involves a fighter simply saying "tap, tap, tap". In some combat sports, screaming in pain, is deemed a verbal tap.

A "tap" usually happens when the fighter is subjected to a technique in which is extremely painful, they are unable to breath (such as a choke hold, or sleeper hold) or which will result in a very serious injury, or even CAREER threatening injury. This is typically seen as knee bar, or more commonly, and arm bar, but there are other less common ones. Finally, fighter will tap, if they are about to lose consciousness (submission holds that cut off blood to the brain), although it's not unheard of that a fighter will refuse to tap, understanding that once they lose comsciousness, the referee will stop the fight. On ocasions, you will see a fighter tap due to just getting the crap punched out of them, but they are fighters after all, so I find this to be very rare in professional combat sports. I suppose they are accustomed to getting punched.

There are many YouTube videos showing highlights of the best combat sport submissions in MMA, Jujitsu and Wrestling, as well as other submission sports.

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    A tap is an admission of defeat though, isn't it? It's the way that fights end. My sense of the question is that it's looking for a word to describe when someone leaves before the match is over. – AndyT Jan 20 at 12:09

Another common term is a bye

bye (noun)

the position of a participant in a tournament who advances to the next round without playing

When you advance without playing anyone - either because the opponent couldn't/wouldn't play, or sometimes just because there's an uneven number of teams remaining - we say you "had a bye".

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    bye is specific to when there is no scheduled opponent at all. It's not used when an opponent is scheduled but forfeits. – T.J. Crowder Jan 18 at 10:58
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    @Nij It is an answer, but it's a wrong answer. – Andrew Leach Jan 18 at 12:33
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    @T.J.Crowder There are numerous examples of that usage on the Internet:: "Cincinnati State...got a first-round bye when its scheduled opponent, Lakeland Community College, chose not to play." -- "The decision has been made for the Clinton football program to take the forfeit in week 2 of the season and use it as a bye week." -- "Gross received a rare first-round bye, as his scheduled opponent had to forfeit because he failed to make the required weight." -- "Brown's 6.38 at 212 mph qualified him in the No. 4 spot and earned him a bye, when his scheduled opponent could not make the call. " – D Krueger Jan 18 at 15:46
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    @DKrueger - I suspect you can find examples of incorrect usage of just about every word on the internet. ;-) I can only argue from experience (which is a rubbish argument) though, so... :-) (And yes, of course, English is always changing. Use a word incorrectly long enough, and it becomes a correct usage.) – T.J. Crowder Jan 18 at 15:50
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    A bye can be used if the opponent quits before the scheduled match takes place – CSM Jan 18 at 22:53

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