“Acts of God” send sporting events to the sidelines

Heather Reid


On Monday I had the privilege of speaking about venue contracts at the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance (CSTA) 2017 Sport Events Congress.

Preparing for my presentation, I discovered many examples of FORCE MAJEURE affecting major sporting events.

A few examples:

Women's Hockey Championships Terminated

The International Ice Hockey Federation terminated the 2003 Women's World Ice Hockey Championships in Beijing because of the SARS epidemic.

According to the Globe and Mail: "... officials from Canada, the United States and Finland said they would not send their teams to China and risk exposing them to [SARS]."

Ryder Cup Postponed

The Professional Golf Association of America (PGA) asked the European Ryder Cup Board to postpone the 2001 Ryder Cup following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The USA Today reported: "Jim Awtrey, the CEO Of the PGA of America, said his main concern was the safety of the players, and he was also aware that some team members... had expressed reservations about playing the matches in view of the mood in the USA."

College Basketball Tournament Suspended

Organizers were forced to suspend the fourth game of the 2008 Southeastern Conference Men's Basketball Tournament when a tornado struck downtown Atlanta.

The final basketball game was moved from the Georgia Dome to a smaller basketball stadium at Georgia Tech and rescheduled for a later date.

World Skating Championships Terminated

The International Skating Union terminated the 2011 World Skating Championships in Tokyo in light of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan days before the scheduled event.This is a reminder that natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and terrorist attacks may be rare - but they do happen. And when they happen, these rare incidents have disastrous effects on event organizers with weak Force Majeure clauses.

Cancellation vs Termination

The key to negotiating a strong Force Majeure clause begins with knowing the difference between "Termination" and "Cancellation".

TERMINATION refers to the ending of a contract, usually before the natural end of the anticipated term of the contract - without it being breached by either side.In other words, you both want and expect the event to proceed as usual. But outside forces prevent it from doing so.CANCELLATION refers to the ending of a contract when one party "discharges" the other party from obligations not yet performed. The cancelling party must remedy the breach. In other words, you decide to cancel your event, you pay the venue OR the venue cancels your contract, they pay you.

Contracts may describe FORCE MAJEURE other ways, including:

  • Termination
  • Acts of God
  • Excuse of Performance
  • Impossibility

Helpful Tips: Five Key Elements of Force Majeure

The following are elements of balanced contracts when it comes to Force Majeure:

  1. Either the venue or the organizing group can terminate the contract due to Force Majeure
  2. The contract considers situations beyond "Impossibility." For example, a significant portion of your attendees may be unable to participate. This is called "Partial Force Majeure."
  3. There is a time frame in which the Force Majeure event can occur.
  4. There are general AND specific examples listed of events or situations that could impact the event or venue.
  5. The contract determines how notice is to be given in the case of Force Majeure.

EVERY venue contract needs a FORCE MAJEURE clause. Ensure your next contract has one - and that it's balanced.


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