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Foot faults – What to do?

When a player or team breaks the rules in some way, we are confronted with two questions.

The first question is the How to Continue Question. “What should the players do, so that they can carry on with the game?” This question has two possible answers. (a) “Undo the illegal event.” (b) “It is not possible to undo the illegal event, so just leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.”

The second question is the Penalty Question. “What penalty, if any, should an umpire impose on the offending player or team?”

In non-umpired games players need to deal only with the How to Continue Question, but in umpired games the umpire must deal with both questions. An umpire must ask himself, “In this case, should I apply a Continue Rule? a Penalty Rule? both?” This can be a tricky question, especially in the case of foot faults, where the Penalty Rules interact with the Continue Rules. This was illustrated in a recent discussion of a question on Ask the Umpire. The question was

A player lifted a foot while throwing. His thrown boule successfully shot away an opponent’s boule. The umpire gave the player a warning (yellow card) but let the situation on the ground remain unchanged. Did the umpire rule correctly?

International umpire Mike Pegg’s answer was NO. Mike’s opinion was that “The umpire should have disqualified the boule and put back the original boule because the player who lifted his foot should not be given this unfair advantage.” FPUSA umpire Gary Jones’s answer was YES. “Since Article 6 clearly states that Article 35 should be applied for the infraction of lifting one’s foot while throwing, and Article 24 clearly states that it is applicable only where the rules do not provide for specific and graduated penalties as outlined in Article 35, I would rule exactly as the presiding umpire did.”

Gary’s surprising (but I believe correct) answer points out the way that Penalty Rules can interact with Continue Rules. Here is the text of the relevant rules. I have underlined the important clause in Article 24 noted by Gary.

Article 6
The player’s feet… must not leave the circle or be completely lifted off the ground until the thrown boule has touched the ground… Any player not respecting this rule shall incur the penalties specified in Article 35.

Article 24 – Boules thrown contrary to the rules
Except for cases in which these regulations specify the application of specific and graduated penalties in article 35, any boule thrown contrary to the rules is dead, and anything that it displaced in its travel is put back in place, if those objects had been marked.

In short, Article 24 says

Normally, if a boule is thrown contrary to the rules, the boule is dead and the effects of the thrown boule should be undone, if possible. BUT… if in a particular situation the rules specify the imposition of an Article 35 penalty, impose an appropriate penalty and then leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.

So the umpire’s decision in this case was correct. The umpire gave the player a warning (yellow card) but let the situation on the ground remain unchanged.

This interpretation of Article 24 raises the question of what it means for a boule to be “thrown contrary to the rules”. (Read other posts on this topic.) As far as I can tell, the FIPJP rules contain only two articles that both (a) cover situations in which a boule is thrown contrary to the rules, and (b) specify that the penalties in Article 35 should be applied.

Article 6 covers foot faults. The player’s feet are not entirely inside the circle when throwing, or the player lifts a foot (or touches the ground outside the circle with any part of his body) before the thrown boule hits the ground.
Article 16: The player fails to remove mud from his boule before throwing it.

In these cases an umpire may give the player an appropriate penalty (probably a warning), but the game on the ground should be allowed to remain as it is.

The Penalty Rules haven’t always interacted with the Continue Rules in this way— the underlined clause in Article 24 hasn’t always been there— it was inserted into the rules as part of the 2016 rules revisions. I assume that the FIPJP International Umpires Committee knew the implications of what they were doing, and that they inserted the clause because they wanted what it implied. But old habits die hard for umpires who have been umpiring for many years under the old rules. I expect that different umpires will mentally merge the old and new texts of Article 24 and come up with different ways of interpreting the rule about foot faults. Take Mike Pegg for example.

In the past, Mike Pegg has ruled that if a foot fault gave the player an unfair advantage then BOTH Article 6 AND Article 24 should be applied— the player should be given a warning AND the thrown boule should be declared dead and illegally-moved balls put back. Before the 2016 rules revision this was a reasonable way to interpret the rules, especially in cases where committing a foot fault clearly gave a player some advantage (e.g. a player stands on the side of the circle in order to get a better line of play around a blocking boule). (On the other hand, it opens a can of worms about whether or not a player gained an advantage from a foot fault. Does a player gain any advantage by stepping on the front of the circle? On the back? By lifting a foot?)

The new clause in 2016 changed that. Now Article 24 seems pretty clearly to prohibit applying both Article 6 and Article 24 for a foot fault. Mike Pegg may still apply both of them, but other umpires do not. The umpire whose decision prompted the question on “Ask the Umpire” didn’t. In July 2017, during the final of the Masters de Pétanque at Clermont, an umpire gave Dylan Rocher a yellow card for a foot fault, but he didn’t disqualify Dylan’s thrown boule. So Mike’s interpretation of the rules seems to differ from other umpires.

Mazlan Ahmad has suggested that it might be a good idea to revoke the new clause. “Without that clause, enforcement of Article 24 for all foot-fault infractions becomes mandatory— just like the days before the 2016 rules revision.” We’ll have to wait for the next revision of the FIPJP rules to see if the international umpires agree with him.

Note that Dylan’s right foot is lifed completely off of the ground and outside the circle. The thrown boule is still too high in the air to be seen in this picture. See THIS or THIS.

The CNA comments on Article 35

About this time last year, after the FIPJP released the December 2016 revisions to the international rules of petanque, Mike Pegg’s “Ask the Umpire” group on Facebook lit up like a Christmas tree with question after question about the changes. (Alas, most of those posts have been deleted.) Many of the questions were about the changes to Article 35, which introduced something new into the rules, the notion of a collective penalty.

About the same time, the CNA (the French National Umpires Committee) issued some comments on Article 35 and Article 6. The comments were in French and seem to have been available to affiliates of the FFPJP, but they weren’t readily accessible to English-speaking players. Now, the first anniversary of their release, seems a good occasion to rectify that.

The CNA’s comments reflect confusions that one sees in Article 35 itself— about the difference between an infraction of the rules, a penalty, and a colored card, and about where to distinguish the “individual” from the “collective”. That’s not surprising— it was probably the CNA that wrote the changes to Article 35.

My English translation is loose but I think accurate. The original French documents can be found in several places on the web, e.g. http://ffpjp-nord.info/index.php/doc/notes-aux-arbitres and http://www.educnaute-infos.com/2017/08/ce-qu-il-faut-savoir.html. You can download a document with side-by-side French and English text HERE (docx) or HERE (pdf).

Decisions of the FIPJP National Umpires Committee
28 and 29 January 2017 in Marseille

Article 35
Different cases concerning exceeding the time during the course of a single game.

The following examples are for a team composed of three players A, B and C.

Case 1
No player has been given a yellow card.
Player A exceeds the time.
There is a collective yellow card (one for Player A, one for player B and one for player C).

Case 2
After [a team has received] a collective yellow card,
[a player commits some kind of infraction of the rules].
For a player who commits an infraction of the rules (whatever the infraction) the next boule played or about to be played is disqualified and the player is shown an orange card.

Case 3
After [a team has received] a collective yellow card,
player B exceeds the time. (So this is the second collective infraction for the team.)
In this specific case, the offending player (B) has a boule disqualified and receives an orange card. But his partners do not receive an orange card and do not have any boules disqualified because there is no collective orange card.

Case 4
Only player C has received a yellow card for an infraction other than exceeding the time (e.g. encroaching on the circle, sweeping, etc.)
Player B exceeds the time.
A and B receive a yellow card
C has a boule disqualified, but does not receive an orange card (he is not the one who committed this new infraction). (Note that an orange card can be given only to the direct author of an infraction.)

Case 5
Player A and player B have each received an individual yellow card for an infraction other than exceeding the time.
Player C exceeds the time.
Players A and B each have a boule disqualified, but they do not receive an orange card. (Note that an orange card can be given only to the direct author of an infraction.) Player C receives a yellow card.

Case 6
Players A, B and C have each received a yellow card for individual infractions.
The time is exceeded.
Three boules are disqualified (one per player) and the player who exceeded the time receives an orange card.

– Always make sure of who made the mistake.
– Know which players of the team have already been sanctioned during the game.
– Distinguish between a collective infraction (time exceeded) and an individual infraction.
– Remember that there is no collective orange card.

Article 6
Concerning the throw of an invalid jack

After an invalid throw of the jack, the opposing team places the jack by hand.

It is forbidden to push the jack with the feet. The first time a player does this he will be given a verbal warning. For subsequent infractions, a penalty will be awarded.

This team [that places the jack by hand] should place the jack in conformity with the rules of the game. If the jack is not placed on the terrain in conformity with the rules, the umpire asks the team that placed it to place it in conformity with the rules. The jack is not given back to the team that threw it.

If a team loses the throw of the jack (because it wasn’t successful in throwing a valid jack) and the jack is moved by the first boule, the opposing team, which placed the jack, may not challenge the jack’s new location, regardless of whether or not the jack’s original location was marked.

What is an obstacle?

The FIPJP rules use many terms without defining them. The worst offender in this regard is the word “obstacle”. “What is an obstacle?” is probably the most-frequently-asked question about the rules. So… What is an obstacle?

In the FIPJP rules, “obstacle” is not a technical term. It is an ordinary word that means, roughly, “something that interferes with the normal course of some activity or process.” The relevant activity or process must be inferred from the context. The context differs from rule to rule.

  • In Article 10, an “obstacle” is any natural feature of the terrain that might make pointing difficult. Article 10 says that even though a player might want to pick up or push down an “obstacle” like a stone or a hump in the ground, or tamp down some soft earth, he is not allowed to do so.
  • In Article 19, an “obstacle” is anything that causes a boule to bounce back in-bounds after it has gone out-of-bounds.
  • In Article 25, an “obstacle” is something on the terrain (a big rock, a tree root) that gets in the way of measurement.

The two important uses of the term “obstacle” are…

throwing obstacles
Both Article 6 (on placing the circle) and Article 7 (on throwing the jack) say that the throwing circle must be at least one meter from any “obstacle” and at least 2 meters from another throwing circle in use. The purpose of these rules is to move the circle away from throwing obstacles— features of the playing area that might interfere with a player’s normal throwing form. The most common kind of throwing obstacle are objects that might interfere with a player’s backswing. Trees, telephone poles, trash receptacles, walls, and crowd-control barriers count as throwing obstacles if they are too close to the circle. The category of “throwing obstacles” also includes features of the terrain that might interfere with a player’s footing. A patch of ground that is too irregular for a player to stand with a solid footing, a patch of slippery mud, a puddle of rainwater— all of these count as throwing obstacles.

pointing obstacles
Article 7 (on throwing the jack) also says that the thrown jack must be a minimum of 1 meter from any “obstacle” and from any dead-ball line. This rule is designed to insure that there is at least one meter of clear space around the thrown jack, so that it is possible for a player to point a boule anywhere within a meter of the jack. Here, pointing obstacles are things such as walls or buildings on the terrain that infringe on the clear space around the thrown jack. The dead-ball line is in effect a pointing obstacle, which is why Article 7 says that the thrown jack must be at least a meter from any dead-ball line.

There are a number of questions about “obstacles” that are frequently asked.

Is a wooden surround a throwing obstacle? It might interfere with the backswing of a squat pointer.
Mike Pegg has ruled that a wooden surround is NOT a throwing obstacle for a squat pointer, because the player can always stand (rather than squat) when pointing. I think, however, that (depending on the circumstances) another umpire might reasonably rule that players should be able safely to use their normal throwing form, whatever that form might be, and that a wooden surround can be considered a throwing obstacle if a squat pointer expresses concerns at the time that the circle is being placed. The primary goal here is to allow players to throw normally, and to do so without fear of injury.

Are tree trunks considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?

Are tree roots considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
Generally speaking: NO. They are considered to be features of the terrain, like rocks.

Article 19 says that a boule is dead if it goes out-of-bounds, hits an “obstacle”, and then comes back on to the terrain. Are things ABOVE the ground “obstacles”? If a thrown (or hit) boule or jack hits something ABOVE the terrain, is it dead?
The answer is NO, it is not dead. The real question here is not “Are objects above the terrain considered to be obstacles?” It is: “Are objects above the terrain considered to be out-of-bounds?” And the answer to that question is NO. Think of the dead-ball lines as imaginary invisible walls that the visible dead-ball lines project vertically into the sky. Any object that is directly above the terrain— any object that inside the invisible dead-ball walls— is in-bounds. That means that if a boule or a jack hits an overhanging tree branch, a low-hanging light fixture, or a boulodrome ceiling, and drops down onto the terrain, it is still alive. (Local or tournament rules may over-ride this general rule of course.) Here is an outdoor boulodrome in Seaside, Florida. Note the low-hanging light fixtures. They are in-bounds features of the terrain.

Moving a boule while measuring

Here is a Frequently Asked Question about moving a boule during measuring.

Article 28 says:

The point is lost by a team if one of its players, while making a measurement, displaces the jack or one of the contested boules.

The question is:

Boules A1 and B1 appear to be the same distance from the jack. While measuring, Albert (from team A) accidentally bumps B1 a few millimeters farther away from the jack. So (per Article 28, because Team A moved a boule while measuring) Team A loses the point. Boule A1 loses the point, boule B1 has the point, and Team A plays the next boule.

During the agreement of points, Team A starts to use the normal point-counting procedure. A1 is closer to the jack than B1, so Team A naturally says that A1 beats B1. Team B disagrees, arguing that A1 earlier lost the point to B1. What is the correct ruling?

In replies to this question on Ask the Umpire, international umpire Mike Pegg has ruled that as long as none of the involved balls (jack, A1, B1) has been moved, when points are counted A1 cannot be counted as beating B1. In other places he has ruled that A1 does not count in a measure for points as long as neither the jack nor A1 has been moved during play. The bottom line is that Team B is correct— when points are counted, A1 must still be considered farther away from the jack than B1.

Accidentally moving a ball while measuring is an illegal event. An “illegal event” is an event that is not possible within the rules of the game, but that is physically possible and actually occurs in real life. (In chess, for instance, accidentally upsetting the board is not a legal move, but sometimes it happens.) The ideal response to an illegal event is to undo it: to put everything back where it was before the illegal event occurred. In petanque, this would mean that the two teams would agree on how to put the illegally-moved things back. (This is the philosophy of Petanque Libre.)

Interestingly, Mike Pegg has suggested that it is possible for the two teams to agree to undo an illegal event even in a game supervised by FIPJP umpires. If an unmarked boule is moved accidentally, he says, agree with your opponent to replace the boule. “Do not call the umpire because if you do he or she will say the boule must remain where it is.”

Simply leaving everything where it is after an illegal event, rather than undoing the event, can lead to unfair decisions. In our example, if A1 had been bumped (so that its location but not its distance from the jack had been changed) A1 would have had the point. This might have given Team A the game and even the competition victory. Naturally, Team B would be upset. They would feel that Albert’s illegal action— which, despite its illegality, was allowed to stand— had robbed them of what might have been the winning point. And they would be right. Mike Pegg says

For team B this may seem a little unfair given the outcome of other boules being played but they should have marked their boule.

Mike’s remark reminds us that when nothing is marked, an FIPJP umpire must rule that everything should be left where it is. If a team complains about unfairness, the umpire’s response is to blame the players for not marking their boules. It is a feeble response, but it is the only defense that the umpire has against charges of unfairness.

Read other posts in the Putting Things Back category

An alternate set of rules for friendly games of petanque

The FIPJP rules of petanque are designed for use in FIPJP-sanctioned competitions supervised by FIPJP-certified umpires. In addition to being unclear and sometimes unfair when strictly interpreted, the FIPJP rules are dependent on the presence of an umpire to the extent that, under some circumstance, they are useless in friendly games. By “friendly games” I mean games played outside of an organized competition, without an umpire.

In response to these problems, the Petanque Libre Project has developed an alternate set of rules for the game of petanque. The Petanque Libre rules are designed with friendly games in mind; they are designed so that ordinary players can understand, interpret, and apply them in games played outside of an organized competition, without an umpire.

You can read more about the project, and download a copy of the rules for Petanque Libre, at the Petanque Libre Project website. The project has also issued a Request for Comments on the rules.

Zombie boules

A zombie boule is a boule that dies and then returns to life and attacks the living. It is a boule that is knocked out of bounds, hits something, rebounds back onto the terrain, and then moves or deflects or stops still-living balls (boules or the jack). When that happens we are confronted by The Zombie Boule Question:

A zombie boule has interfered with the game. What should we do?


Article 19, which covers dead boules, gives us these instructions for dealing with zombies.

Any boule is dead from the moment that it enters an out-of-bounds area. … If the boule then comes back onto the game terrain, either because of the slope of the ground, or because it rebounds off of an obstacle, moving or stationary, it is immediately removed from the game and anything that it displaced after its trip through the out-of-bounds area is put back in its original location provided that those objects had been marked.   [Note that the words “provided that those objects had been marked” were added in the 2016 rules revision.]

The problem with this rule is that “putting things back in their original places” is a useless concept. In real life, the original places of balls are never marked, so it is impossible to put things back in their original places. And who knows what “original place” means for a ball that was in motion when it was stopped or deflected by a zombie? If an umpire is called in to make a decision in a Zombie Boule situation, he will always rule that the zombie boule should be removed, everything else should be left where it is, and the game should continue.

As soon as we forget the notion of “putting things back in their original places”, everything becomes easy. What might help, perhaps, is a way of thinking about zombie boules that makes it easy to see the answer to a Zombie Boule Question. Something like this.

A boule that goes out of bounds is dead. After a boule is dead, if it interacts in any way with a live ball, it is treated as part of the terrain (like a stone). As soon as possible after a boule dies, it should be moved to a location outside of, and well away from, the dead-ball line and left on the ground.

Thinking about zombie boules this way won’t change the way that zombie boules should be dealt with. But it might make it easier to see the right answer in some zombie-boule situations. Like this one.

Boule A is hit by boule B. Boule A is knocked across the dead-ball line and is stopped by the wooden sideboard. Boule B quickly follows. Normally boule B would go out-of-bounds, but in this case it is stopped by boule A. It doesn’t completely cross the dead-ball line. (See the diagram, below.) Is boule B dead?


The answer is— NO. Boule B never went completely out-of-bounds so it is not dead. The fact that boule B was stopped by a dead boule makes no difference whatsoever. As far as a live boule is concerned, a dead boule on or near the terrain is just another feature of the terrain, like a rock or a tree root. When boule A stopped boule B from crossing the dead-ball line, it was just as if a rock or root on the terrain had stopped boule B.

The same situation can play itself out more slowly. Suppose that Boule A is knocked out of bounds. Then another boule is played. Then another boule is played. Then boule B is played, and ends up being stopped by boule A. In this situation international umpire Mike Pegg has ruled that

The player of boule A and his team is given a warning for not removing the dead boule.

I take it that Mike is acting on a rule interpretation in which “the terrain” includes not just the in-bounds area but also the out-of-bounds area to some unspecified distance from the dead-ball line. That’s why he has also stated (the underscores are mine) that

anything (boule, bag, etc.) on the terrain and in a position that it would stop a boule or jack from completely crossing the dead ball line should be removed. Which is why you often see umpires moving bags and the like to the other side of the timber surround.

This post was updated for the 2016 FIPJP rules revision.
It supercedes three earlier posts about zombie boules.

2016 petanque rules changes

Here is a list of the important changes to the rules of petanque made by the FIPJP in 2016. (This is an expanded version of an earlier post.) The 2016 FIPJP rules of petanque are available on the FIPJP web site and the Rules of Petanque web site.
2017-03-17: added a note on the need for a new interpretion of Article 8 and a photograph of an approved folding circle.

  1. Article 10a has been renamed to be Article 11, and all subsequent articles renumbered. So the rules now have 41 articles, rather than 40.
  2. Article 3: The weight of the jack must be between 10 and 18 grams. (This means that synthetic jacks, which weigh 22g, are no longer permitted.)
  3. Article 5: The opening sentence has been changed from “Petanque is played on all terrains,” to “Petanque is played on all surfaces.”
  4. Article 6: Folding circles (cercles pliables) are permitted but only if they are of a model and rigidity approved by the FIPJP. (Folding circles that are approved by the FIPJP will be marked “Agréé FIPJP”.)
  5. Article 6: The throwing circle must be marked before the jack is thrown.
  6. Article 6: If a player picks up the circle when there are boules still to be played, the circle is replaced but only the opponents are allowed to play their boules.
  7. Article 7: The team winning the toss or the previous end will have ONE and only one attempt to throw a valid jack. If the thrown jack is not valid, the jack is given to the opposing team which then places the jack in any valid location on the designated terrain.
  8. Article 7: The throwing circle must now be placed at least two meters from any other active circle.
  9. Article 7: During time-limited games only, for a thrown jack, the required minimum distance from a SIDE dead-ball line (not from an END dead-ball line) is reduced to 50cm.
  10. Article 8 contains the following sentence: “Before the jack is given to the opposing team for them to place it, both teams must have recognized that the throw was not valid or the Umpire must have decided it to be so. If any team proceeds differently, it loses the right to throw the jack.” The words have not changed, but the second sentence must be given a new interpretation in light of the changes to the rules for the throw of the jack.

    If Team A throws a jack that appears to Team B to be long, and Team B picks the jack up before Team A agrees that it actually was long, an umpire may rule that Team B has lost the right to place the jack, and give the jack to Team A, which will then place (not throw) it. It is likely that the second sentence will be revised in the next version of the rules.

  11. Article 10: “Sweeping” (the ground with a foot) in front of a boule to be shot is now specifically mentioned as a violation of the rule against changing the terrain. (This is a clarification of, rather than a change to, the existing rule.)
  12. Article 24: The following clause was inserted before the beginning of the rule: “Except for cases in which these rules provide specific and graduated penalties as outlined in Article 35,…”
  13. Article 26: Players must stand at least two meters away from an umpire while he is measuring.
  14. Article 27: If a player picks up his boules from the playing area while his partners have boules remaining, they will not be allowed to play them.
  15. Article 31: It is now no longer the responsibility of each team to check and verify the opposing team’s licenses, boules, qualifications to play in the competition, etc.
  16. Article 33: A mene is considered to start when the jack is thrown, regardless of whether or not the throw was valid.
  17. Article 35: In order to simplify the penalties, the penalty of disqualification of TWO boules has been eliminated.
  18. Article 35: The rules now officially recognize the use of colored signal cards.
  19. Article 35: The discussion of warnings has two new provisions. (1) A yellow card for exceeding the time limit will be imposed on ALL of the players of the offending team. (2) If one of these players has already been given a yellow card, that player will be penalised by disqualification of a boule.

    These new provisions are poorly written and it will probably be some time before umpires agree on how to interpret them. One likely outcome is this— In the past, umpires usually treated a time-violation as an individual offense. Thus, if player A on Team T exceeded the time limit, the umpire would give A a warning. Later, if player B on Team T exceeded the time limit, the umpire would give B a warning. Now, with these new provisions, it seems likely that if player A on Team T exceeds the time limit, the umpire will give Team T a warning. Later, if player B on Team T exceeds the time limit, the umpire will penalize Team T by disqualifying one of the team’s boules.

  20. Article 39: Correct dress is required of the players, specifically: (a) it is forbidden to play without a top (i.e. with a bare torso) and (b) for safety reasons, the players must wear fully enclosed shoes. In addition, it is forbidden to smoke (or use an e-cigarette) and to use a mobile phone during a game.

American players should note that the FPUSA rules have changed in another way.
Following a new policy, the FPUSA has adopted the 2016 international rules “as written” as its national rules.

Adopting the international rules “as written” means doing away with the italicized modifications and addendums added to the FPUSA version over the years. Doing so also means our players will learn to play per the international rules, nothing more, nothing less. [Mike] Pegg’s advice to the FPUSA is to publish the rules as adopted in December 2016 by the FIPJP and separately publish clarification for the more ambiguous and broadly interpreted aspects of the rules or for issues unique to the FPUSA. We agree with Mike and are already in the process of updating the “2015 Interpretation’s” currently in use by the federation.

Previous versions of the FPUSA rules also differed from the FIPJP rules in the wording of the Puddle Rule in Article 9. With the adoption of the FIPJP rules “as written”, that difference no longer exists.