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Rules governing the jack (cochonnet, bouchon)

As of September 2018, the FIPJP rules governing the petanque jack (the little target ball, cochonnet, bouchon) are as follows. We will discuss synthetic and paramagnetic jacks later in this post.

  1. The jack must be made of wood.
  2. The jack must be 30mm, +/- 1mm in diameter.
  3. The jack must weigh between 10g and 18g.
  4. The jack may be unpainted or painted any color.
  5. A painted jack may not be painted with paramagnetic paint.

Table of Contents

  1. Documents containing the rules governing jacks
  2. A short history of changes to the rules governing jacks
  3. Synthetic jacks
  4. Paramagnetic jacks
  5. The weight of jacks
  6. The future of jacks

Documents containing the rules governing jacks

The FIPJP specifications for jacks are contained in two documents. The first is the official FIPJP international rules for the sport of petanque. The second is Fabricants de Boules: Labels des Boules et Buts agréés en compétition. It is a list of certified manufacturers, boules, and synthetic jacks.

A short history of changes to the rules governing jacks

This section contains a brief summary of historical changes to the rules governing jacks. For more detailed historical information see Footnote 1.

In the 1960’s, jacks made of metal were prohibited. In 1970 the prohibition on metal jacks was replaced by a requirement that jacks be made exclusively of wood. In 2002, jacks were also permitted to be made of synthetic material (i.e. plastic, epoxy resin).

Jacks were originally unpainted wood. In 1979, jacks were permitted to be painted white, and in 1984 jacks were permitted to be painted any color.

The official size of the jack was originally set at 25mm to 35mm in diameter. In 2008 the size was set at exactly 30mm (+/- 1mm), which put an end to big variations in the size of the jack.

Paramagnetic jacks were prohibited (for the first time) in the 2008 version of the FIPJP rules. “Painted jacks are permitted, but must not be able to be picked up with a magnet.” Nobody really knows the reason for the prohibition.

Traditionally, jacks are made of wood— usually boxwood root (buis) or beechwood (hetre), but the rules do not require any particular type of wood. Differences in wood, when combined with differences in size, meant that a wide variation in the weight of the jack was permitted. In 2016 the weight of a jack was specified as 10-18g, which retroactively prohibited all synthetic jacks then on the market. (A jack made of beechwood weighs about 9-10g. A jack made of boxwood weighs about 14-15g. A jack made of epoxy resin weighs 22g.)

Synthetic jacks

VMS_tortue_bouleIn 1996 VMS, a boutique manufacturer of petanque boules, introduced its distinctive tortue (“tortoise”) boules, designed to resemble the old wooden “nailed” boules (boules cloutées). At the same time, as a marketing gimmick, VMS brought out a new line of colorful epoxy resin jacks. The design of the resin jacks, like the design of the new boules, was meant to suggest the appearance of the old nailed boules.

clearing_the_circle_02According to Mike Pegg—
These resin jacks were produced back in 1996 for the launch of the new “VMS” boule which was about the same time as the World Champs in Essen, Germany. The company gave a free resin jack with each set they sold. Soon afterwards the jacks became available to purchase and of course, as is the way with these things, the market was flooded with resin jacks. Instead of banning them the FIPJP decided to approve them … but sadly without any real investigation.

The VMS resin jacks were approved by the FIPJP in 2002. (Les buts sont en bois, ou en matiére synthétique portant le label du fabricant et ayant fait l’objet d’une homologation de la F.I.P.J.P….) As soon as people started using the synthetic jacks, they started having problems with them. The epoxy resin material is very hard (like a billiard ball or a bowling ball) and very heavy. If a synthetic jack is hit by a boule, it is going to fly farther and faster than a wooden jack, and it is going to hurt more if hits somebody. Almost immediately, many national organizations, including the FPUSA and the English Petanque Association, banned the resin jacks. As English international umpire Mike Pegg wrote—

The issue we and other nations have with the resin jack is two-fold.

  1. They are far more dense (they don’t even float) than a wooden jack, causing more injury if you get hit by one.
  2. When they break (hit by a boule for example) they shatter into pieces which can be sharp.

There are a number of reported incidents where players have been hit on the arm causing a severe bruise. More worrying was a player hit in the face near his eye receiving a nasty cut. Our insurers advised us as we know these jacks can cause an injury we could negate our policy cover if we allowed them to be used.

For a bit more information about synthetic jacks, see THIS POST.
This might seem to be the end of the story for synthetic jacks, but it isn’t. That story has at least two more chapters. One is about “magnetic” jacks, and the other is about the weight of the jack.

Paramagnetic jacks

The January 2013 Obut catalog listed a new product— Obut’s “black jack”. The new black jacks (buts noirs) were ramassables par aimant — could be picked up by a magnet.

At the same time the FIPJP list of approved manufacturers, boules, and jacks was updated to list the new black jack as one of the approved synthetic jacks, and the specification that “Painted jacks are permitted, but must not be able to be picked up with a magnet” was copied from the FIPJP rules of petanque to the list of approved jacks. obut_magnetic_jacks_approval

This caused a lot of confusion among players and umpires because the rules said that “painted jacks are permitted, but must not be able to be picked up with a magnet.” How could the FIPJP now approve a “magnetic” jack?!

Contributing to the confusion among English-speaking players was the word “magnetic”. A material is magnetic if it carries a persistent magnetic field. A material is paramagnetic if it does not carry a magnetic field itself, but is attracted by an externally applied magnetic field. Iron and steel items like nuts and bolts are paramagnetic— they aren’t magnets, but they can be picked up with magnets. An Obut black jack contains iron oxide particles embedded in the synthetic material. That means that a black jack is not magnetic but it is paramagnetic — it is not a magnet but it can be picked up by a magnet. Il n’est pas aimanté, il peut-être aimanté.

The official FIPJP position is that the rule says only that PAINTED jacks may not be paramagnetic— it says nothing about UNPAINTED jacks. So synthetic paramagnetic jacks are permitted because they are not painted. This is of course absurd, and when it was announced it was met with disapproval and ridicule. As Eli Nielsen wrote on the “Ask the Umpire” Facebook group: Do you really believe, that those who wrote the rules meant, that only painted jacks were not to be picked up with a magnet, but any other jack could legally be picked up with a magnet? What is the point? A few people noted that paramagnetic jacks might be helpful to handicapped players who use magnetic boule lifters. Several commenters opined that the approval showed that Obut, not the FIPJP, really writes the rules.

In the hubbub over paramagnetic jacks, nobody ever provided a good answer to the question “Why were paramagnetic jacks forbidden in the first place?”

One theory is that the rule was really a way to prohibit metal jacks. That theory doesn’t hold water. Metal jacks were already prohibited (the rules required jacks to be made of wood or plastic). And prohibiting paramagnetic jacks doesn’t prohibit metal jacks— a metal jack can be made of a non-paramagnetic metal such as bronze or aluminum.

boule_lifter_magnetic_obut_telescopicAnother theory is that some players use their telescoping magnetic boule lifters as measuring devices, and the FIPJP umpires were clairvoyant— they foresaw the future development of paramagnetic jacks and were concerned that paramagnetic jacks would interfere with this practice. This is absurd. First: the FIPJP umpires aren’t clairvoyant. Second: they don’t care at all about old duffers using boule lifters as measuring devices. Third: if they were concerned about this supposed problem, they would probably revise the rules to forbid players from using magnetic boule lifters to measure, just as the rules currently forbid players from using their feet to measure.

Another theory is that if the jack was paramagnetic, then a player could cheat by placing a magnet in his shoe and surreptitiously moving the jack with his foot. That is just silly. Having a magnet in your shoe would make it harder, not easier, to cheat by moving the jack with your foot. The jack would stick to your shoe.

I suspect that there never was a good reason to forbid paramagnetic jacks. Somebody probably raised a question at one of the umpires’ meetings, and the umpires impulsively banned paramagnetic jacks without really understanding the physics of magnetism but harboring a vague fear that a paramagnetic jack might somehow lead to problems.

The weight of jacks

On February 7, 2014 a seminar for international umpires was convened in Tolouse. It was attended by Claude Azéma, President of the FIPJP, as well as the presidents of both the FIPJP Umpires Committees and the FFPJP Umpires Committees. According to the minutes of that meeting—

The President [of the FIPJP, Claude Azéma] first explained why the Obut jack, which could be picked up with a magnet, had been approved. In fact, the wording and effect of the relevant sentence of article 3, which says that jacks should not be capable of being picked up by a magnet, concerns only painted jacks. The Obut jack is not painted but dyed in bulk. In any case, as it only contains a few oxide particles, there is no risk of electrolysis. [The reference to a "risk of electrolysis" makes no sense. It may reflect a confused understanding of the fact that ferrites are electrically nonconductive.]

Then the discussion turned to the weight of the jack.

A number of umpires drew attention to the danger of jacks that were too heavy. The President [Azéma] also raised the problems posed by jacks that were too light, in terms both of throwing them and of their behavior, which had led the FIPJP to impose wooden jacks at the world championships. It will therefore be proposed to state in the regulations that jacks, whatever they are made of, must weigh between 10 and 18 grams, and that this restriction can be retroactive for synthetic jacks that have already been approved. That would be added to the rules of play and to the manufacturing specification.

In the past the only real stimulus for changes to the FIPJP rules has been problems that international umpires personally experienced at the world championships. The umpires had not personally experienced problems with paramagnetic jacks, but they had experienced problems with jacks that were too heavy or too light. The result? The 2016 rules revision required for the first time that jacks must have a specific weight— 10-18g. A (perhaps intended) side-effect of the new rule was that all currently-approved synthetic jacks, including Obut’s paramagnetic black jack, ended up being banned because they were too heavy!

The future of jacks

It is inevitable that better synthetic jacks will be developed in the future, and that they will be certified by the FIPJP for use in competitions. When that happens, synthetic jacks will will be cheaper, more durable, and more consistent in size and weight than wooden jacks. They will replace wooden jacks, just as metal boules replaced the old wooden nailed boules. We already have a promising candidate. Decathlon’s Geologic “recreational” jacks, although they are rather small and light (29mm diameter and 11g weight), meet the FIPJP requirements for size and weight. Decathlon could make them a bit larger, a bit heavier, and request FIPJP certification. They’d easily have the competition jack of the future. If they don’t do it, I’m sure that someone else will.



1957 and 1962
Jacks are made of wood. Their diameter should be between 25mm (minimum) and 35mm (maximum).
Les buts seront en bois. Leur diamètre doit être compris entre 25 mm (minimum) et 35 mm (maximum).
1959 and 1964
Jacks are made of wood. (Jacks made of metal are officially forbidden.)
Les buts seront en bois. (Les buts métalliques sont formellement interdits.)
Jacks are made exclusively of wood. Wooden jacks that are painted white are permitted.
Les buts sont exclusivement en bois. Les buts en bois peints en blanc sont autorisés.
Jacks are made exclusively of wood. Wooden jacks that are painted (whatever the color) that permit better visibility on the terrain are permitted.
Les buts sont exclusivement en bois. Les buts en bois peints (quelle que soit la couleur) permettant une meilleure visibilité sur le terrain sont autorisés.
Jacks are made exclusively of wood. Jacks that are painted – whatever the color – are permitted.
Les buts sont exclusivement en bois. Les buts peints – quelle que soit la couleur – sont autorisés.
Jacks are made of wood, or of a synthetic material bearing the manufacturer’s trademark and having obtained the FIPJP’s approval in line with the precise specification relating to the required standards. Jacks that are painted – whatever the color – are permitted.
Les buts sont en bois, ou en matiére synthétique portant le label du fabricant et ayant fait l’objet d’une homologation de la F.I.P.J.P. en application du cahier des charges spécifique relatif aux normes requises. Les buts peints – quelle que soit la couleur – sont autorisés.
[The list of approved boules and manufacturers was modified so that a synthetic jack manufactured by the company VMS was licensed.]
Les buts portant le label “VMS” sont agréés.
Jacks are made of wood, or of a synthetic material … Their diameter must be 30mm (+/- 1mm). Painted jacks are permitted, but must not be able to be picked up with a magnet.
Les buts sont en bois, ou en matière synthétique … Leur diamètre doit être de 30mm (tolérance: + ou – 1mm). Les buts peints sont autorisés, mais ne doivent pas pouvoir être ramassés avec un aimant.
[The list of approved boules and manufacturers was modified so that Obut’s synthetic black jack was licensed.]
But Noir marquage OBUT – OBUT en relief. But déclinable en plusieurs coloris marquage – OBUT en relief.
Their weight must be between 10 and 18 grams.
Leur poids doit être compris entre 10 et 18 grammes.

A vendor in France.  Photo courtesy of Arsene Dupin of the Heart of Texas Petanque Club.

A vendor in France. Photo courtesy of Arsene Dupin of the Heart of Texas Petanque Club.

Finally, here is a curious object that I found on the Educanaute-Infos web site, in a post dated November 2013 — a jack filled with metal washers (rondelles). I have no idea who made it, or why. Perhaps some arthritic player wanted a jack that he could pick up with his magnetic boule lifter.

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— on the FFPJP website as well as HERE and HERE. 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 relevant question here has nothing to do with what is considered to be an obstacle— it is: “Are objects above the terrain 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 is 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 without going through one of those invisible walls, 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. Most of the light fixtures are in-bounds and are therefore normal features of the terrain, just as rocks on the terrain are normal features of the terrain.


Moving a boule while measuring

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

Article 28 of the 2016 version of the FIPJP rules 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.

Here is a typical situation that raises questions about this rule:

Boules A1 and B1 are “contested boules”, that is, they appear to be about the same distance from the jack and it is not clear which one of them holds the point. While measuring, Albert (from team A) accidentally bumps boule 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. The relative positions of A1 and B1 have not changed. 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 a reply to this question on Ask the 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.)

When nothing is marked, an FIPJP umpire must rule that everything should be left where it is. 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.”

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 under FIPJP rules it is not possible 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. [See the rules of Petanque Libre.]

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 the object that stopped boule B was 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 is why the rules of Petanque Libre specify that

During a game played on a marked terrain, dead boules should be left on the ground at least 10cm outside of the game’s dead-ball line. A dead boule that is less than 10cm outside the dead-ball line should be moved away from the dead-ball line.

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