Time-limited games

[revised 2022-01-02]
All big competitions have the same problem. Even with a single-elimination format, many rounds of games must be played in order to reduce the field of competitors to the eight teams that will play in the quarter-finals. All of the games in a round must have finished before match-ups between the survivors can be arranged and the next round can begin. This means that if even one game in a round goes on for too long, the entire competition is brought to a halt, waiting for that game to finish. [But see the comment by Jac Verheul.]

The problem for big competitions, then, is to devise a way to play short-form games— games that can be played in a limited and predictable amount of time.

Short-form games

There are three ways that you can play a short-form game.

  • You can play to a winning score of less than 13.
  • You can limit the time allowed for the game.
  • You can limit the number of menes (ends) played.

In the last two cases, if the allotted amount of time or number of menes has completed and the score is tied, then an additional tie-breaker mene must be played to decide the winner.

Note that the idea of a tie-breaker mene isn’t as simple as it seems. Playing one additional mene can not guarantee that that the tie will be broken. In fact, it cannot guarantee that the game will ever finish. If the jack is shot out-of-bounds while both teams still have unplayed boules, the mene is scoreless— the tie remains unbroken and another mene must be played. In theory, it is possible for the two teams to play an infinite series of scoreless menes without breaking the tie.

In order to guarantee that a game will finish in a finite amount of time, it is necessary to invent the idea of (what I will call) a Guaranteed Tie-Breaker mene. This is a special kind of mene in which the jack is not allowed to go dead. If the jack is hit out-of-bounds, it is put back on the terrain and the game continues. (If it was marked, it is put back on the mark. Otherwise, it is put on the terrain near the spot where it crossed the dead-ball line.)

The competition organizer specifies the rules for short-form games

Short-form games are considered to be part of the way a competition is organized, so specifying the rules for short-form games is the responsibility of the competition organizer.

The CEP (Confédération Européenne de Pétanque) is the organizer of the Eurocup, and other competition organizers look to the Eurocup as a model for organizing their own competitions. The CEP’s choice for a short-form game is a time-limited format.

At first, when playing time-limited games, when the time-limit was announced (by a whistle, say), any mene in progress was played to its finish. At that point, if one of the teams was in the lead, then that team was the winner. If the score was tied, one additional tie-breaker mene was played. But there was a problem. As a game approached its time-limit, the team in the lead would often deliberately play slowly, “running out the clock” and limiting their opponents’ opportunities to score more points. The CEP apparently considered this tactic to be contrary to the spirit of the game. Mike Pegg reports

When timed games were first introduced, one more end was played after the whistle was blown. Teams would deliberately play slowly, taking a full minute etc., so that the opponent had no chance of winning or drawing with them. To prevent this sort of tactic, it was decided to allow for two extra ends.

In this new model, games are played to the normal winning score of 13. Any game that hasn’t finished when the time limit is reached, then switches to a limited-number of menes model. Basically, a “time-limited” game is a game in which reaching the time limit triggers a switch into a different mode of play.

  1. Games are played as they normally are. When one team achieves the winning score of 13, the game is declared to be finished and the team that achieved the winning score is declared the winner.
  2. For any game that is still in progress when the time-limit is reached, the teams finish playing the mene that is currently in progress. At that point, if neither team has achieved a winning score, the game switches to a limited-number of menes model in which the allowed number of menes is limited to two.

    Note that “the game is still in progress” means that neither team has reached the winning score (13 points) so the game has not yet finished.

    Note that any game that is still in progress, whether or not the score is tied, will go on to play two extra ends. The two extra ends, therefore, are not tie-breaker ends. They are meant to give the game a few more ends (rather than a little more time) in which to finish.
  3. If, after either of these two extra menes, one team achieves the winning score, the game is declared to be finished and the team that achieved the winning score is declared the winner.
  4. For any game that is still in progress after the two extra ends, if one team has a score that is higher than the other team’s score, the game is declared to be finished and the team with the higher score is declared the winner.
  5. For any game that is still in progress after the two extra ends, if the score is tied, the game plays a third, Guaranteed Tie-Breaker mene. After that mene, the game is declared to be finished and the team with the higher score is declared the winner.

Here’s how the CEP rules for timed, Swiss system games describe it.

[The time limit is 75 minutes for a triples game, 60 minutes for a doubles game, and 45 minutes for a singles game.]

[A]t the end of the time limit the current end should be completed plus two more ends. In the case of equal scores after the two additional ends, the teams will play one more end. During this extra end, the jack cannot become dead (out of play). If the jack goes out of the defined playing area it will be put back in its original position, or if that is not marked then in the nearest valid place to where it went out of play.

Here’s how the FIPJP competition rules for the world championships describe it, in Article 19 of Règlement des Championnats du Monde.

All games in the World Championships are played to 13 points, with the exception of games to which a time limit is applied. [For world championship games, the time limit is 75 minutes for a men’s triples game, 60 minutes for any other kind of triples game, 60 minutes for a doubles game, and 45 minutes for a singles game.] If neither team has reached 13 points before the end of the fixed time, it will be contested for up to two additional ends. In the event of a tie at the end of the extra ends there will be a final end in which the jack, if it can be moved, will never be dead.

A problem with the idea of a guaranteed tie-breaker

There is a problem with these rules for time-limited games. The “guaranteed” tie-breaker does not guarantee that the tie will be broken after the third mene. The fact that the jack cannot go dead does not mean that one team must score. There can be a null point at the end of the third mene (an equidistant boules situation, or an empty terrain situation), which means that neither team scores, and the two scores remain tied.

It may be argued that something that is so unlikely to happen is nothing to worry about. But as an ex-computer programmer, I know that if there is a loophole in a set of rules so that a problem CAN happen, it WILL happen. The only question is about how long it will be before it happens. This is true of computer programs, and it is true of the rules for time-limited games.

Some interesting, unintended consequences

In time-limited games, all boundary lines are dead-ball lines. Before 2020, that meant that a thrown jack had to be at least a meter (sometimes: at least half a meter) from a side dead-ball line. But in 2020 the rules changed. Now a jack can be thrown right next to a side dead-ball line. And that has introduced an interesting new tactic into time-limited games.

Now, at the start of an extra mene, it is common for a team with a higher score to throw the jack very close to the side string. And then, rather than pointing with their first boule, they shoot the jack out-of-bounds. This finishes the extra mene without changing the score and without affecting the team’s lead. With this tactic, a team that has a good shooter and is leading at the beginning of the first or second extra mene has virtually won the game.

The boule advantage

[updated 2021-12-21]
To understand petanque at the strategic level, you need to understand the concept of “the boule advantage”.

The basic idea is simple — the team with the most unplayed boules “has the boule advantage”. If your team has two unplayed boules, and my team has four, then my team has the boule advantage.

Digging a bit deeper

It is possible to provide a precise definition of the boule advantage.

If a team gains the point every time it throws, we will say that the team plays perfectly. (Note that it doesn’t make any difference how the team gains the point. They can out-point the opposition, or shoot away an opposition boule that is holding the point, or shoot the jack. The important thing is that they never require more than one throw to gain the point.)

At any point during a mene, a team has the boule advantage if, assuming that it plays perfectly from that point forward, that team will play the last boule in the mene.

At the start of a mene, the second team to play always has the boule advantage. You can often see this in world-championship games. Team A points the first boule, and Team B shoots it with their own first boule. Team A points their next boule and Team B shoots it with their next boule. Point. Shoot. Point. Shoot. The teams alternate gaining the point until Team A points their last boule. This leaves Team B to play the last boule of the mene. They shoot or point with their last boule and often win the mène.

In short, if you think of a mène as a conversation, then the team with the boule advantage is the team that gets to “have the last word” in that conversation.

Among world-class players, the “point, shoot, point, shoot” pattern is so predictable that often the best way to follow the game is to watch for cases in which a team fails to play perfectly and requires two or more throws to gain the point. The real drama in a world-championship game is in the shot that just barely misses, and the pointing throw that doesn’t quite gain the point. Such failures turn over the boule advantage to the opposing team.  At this level of play, losing the boule advantage can mean losing the mène.

To point? or to shoot? Some strategic considerations

Suppose that your team has two pointers and one shooter. The opponents throw the jack and point a very nice first boule… it is close to the jack and is going to be very hard to out-point. What do you do?

  • Should you ask your shooter to try to shoot it?
  • But… it is very early in the mene, and the opposing team still has five boules. Should you point, and save your shooter for an emergency?

This is petanque’s classic question — to point, or to shoot?  If you decide to point, you may end up with another classic situation— your team ends up throwing all of its boules, trying to out-point the opponents’ opening boule. After you’ve done it, you realize that you’ve lost the boule advantage big time. The opposing team still has five boules that it can play without fear of any response from your team. And you realize in retrospect that you should have used your shooter to try to shoot that opening boule.

If this happens to you, here’s how you should think about the situation.

  • Your team started with the boule advantage.  You might have kept the boule advantage if you had brought out your shooter and shot the opposing team’s opening boule. Even if it took your shooter more than one attempt, it would have been worth it to get rid of that dangerous opening boule.
  • In deciding not to shoot, you not only lost the advantage, you gave the advantage to your opponents, to the tune of five boules. With a boule advantage that big, they are almost certainly going to score several points and win the mene.

The moral of this story is that one of your highest priorities should be NOT to lose the boule advantage. And that can sometimes mean using your shooter very early in the mene.

The Forgotten Boule and the Boule Advantage

Suppose that there are a lot of boules on the ground. Your team has the point, so you ask the opponents if they have any unplayed boules. They look around and then say “No, we’re out”.  So you play your last boule.  As you’re walking to the head to count your points, one of the opposing players says “Ooops! I made a mistake. I still have one boule left!”  What should you do?

You can say “It was an honest mistake. Go ahead. Play your last boule.” But giving away your team’s boule advantage in this way would be a big mistake. With their last “forgotten” boule, your opponents can do all sorts of mischief and win the mene. So a good general rule is that a forgotten boule— even in friendly play— cannot be played. See our discussion of dealing with a forgotten boule.

Feet and hands inside the circle

A regular question on petanque forums is: What does “inside the circle” mean? But you never see the question put that way. Instead, you see questions about what a player is or is not permitted to do while throwing.

  1. Can the toe of a player’s shoe be above the front of the circle, as long as it doesn’t actually touch the circle?
  2. Can the heel of a squat pointer’s shoe be above the back of the circle, as long as it doesn’t actually touch the circle?
  3. Can a squat pointer balance himself by touching the ground inside the circle with his non-throwing hand?
  4. Can a squat pointer touch the ground inside the circle with a knee?

Article 6 (title: “Start of play and rules regarding the circle”) says—

The players’ feet must be entirely on the inside of the circle and not encroach on its perimeter …. No part of the body may touch the ground outside the circle.

This rule, at least with respect to our four questions, seems to me to be quite clear. Imagine that the inside edge of the circle projects an invisible wall upward into the sky, so that the player is in effect standing or squatting inside an invisible cylinder. Article 6 says, in effect, that (a) no part of the player’s feet may protrude out through that cylinder, and (b) no part of the player’s body may touch the ground outside that cylinder. (Note that this does allow a player’s arms, knees, and torso to extend outside of the cylinder during his backswing and throw. They will be outside of the cylinder, yes, but they will not be touching the ground outside of the cylinder.)

If you can visualize such a cylinder, it is easy to answer our four questions.

  1. Can the toe of a player’s shoe be above the front of the circle, as long as it doesn’t actually touch the circle? No. His toe (which is part of his foot) would be outside the cylinder.
  2. Can the heel of a squat pointer’s shoe be above the back of the circle, as long as it doesn’t actually touch the circle? No. His heel (which is part of his foot) would be outside the cylinder.
  3. Can a squat pointer balance himself by touching the ground inside the circle with his non-throwing hand? Yes. His non-throwing hand would not be touching the ground outside the cylinder.
  4. Can a squat pointer touch the ground inside the circle with a knee? Yes … if he can do so while both feet are inside the cylinder and touching the ground!

These answers seem clear and easy. And everybody agrees on the first answer.
Surprisingly, there is disagreement about the other three.

New Zealand Petanque disagrees with answer #2. For many years the NZP rules interpretation guidelines have said

When crouching in the circle to play a boule/jack, the players heel can encroach over the inside edge of the circle, provided it does not touch the circle. If the player stands up and onto the circle before the boule/jack has touched the ground, they have stood on the perimeter of the circle, and not had both feet entirely inside the circle as required. A warning (yellow card) will be given.

International umpire Mike Pegg disagrees with answers #3 and #4. Mike’s answer, in both cases, is NO. Mike maintains that the only parts of the player’s body that may touch the ground are his/her feet.

This leaves umpires and players in a quandary — Should we follow what the written rules say? Or what Mike Pegg says? Or what the New Zealand umpires committee says? Or what seems sensible to us?

I vote for following the written rules. I admit that there are some situations where applying the rules as written can be difficult or unfair. But these situations aren’t among them. With respect to these four questions, the answers provided by the rules are clear and fair.

With respect to question #2, I can understand NZP’s position. As a practical matter, it can be difficult for an umpire to judge whether a squat pointer’s raised heel has encroached on the circle. So except for the most egregious cases an umpire will not, and should not, penalize a player.

With respect to questions #3 and #4, I think that we have to be careful not to read into the rules things that aren’t actually there. We know that players have a tendency to invent mythical rules. You can’t fill a hole with your hand. You can’t wear gloves while throwing a boule. I think that Mike’s position is a product of that tendency. A squat pointer can’t balance himself by touching the ground inside the circle with his non-throwing hand, seems to me to be just another mythical rule. It has absolutely no basis in the written rules.

Mike’s position also seems to me somewhat contrary to the spirit of the game, which allows handicapped players quite a bit of latitude when it comes to standing inside the circle. A squat-pointing player is going to put a hand on the ground only if he absolutely must do so in order to maintain his balance. No completely able-bodied player is going to do it. It seems to me, therefore, that it is in keeping with the spirit of the game, as well as the letter of the law, to permit a squat-pointer to balance himself with a hand on the ground inside the circle.

 updated 2021-11-21

Is the Geologic red jack legal?

Is the Geologic “red jack” legal?

The short answer

The mid-length answer

There are two ways to play. On the one hand there is play strictly according to the FIPJP rules. On the other hand there is friendly “social” play. The red jack is not approved for use in FIPJP-sanctioned competitions, so in that sense it is not legal. (See below for a discussion of the terms “legal” and “approved”.)

On the other hand, for friendly, social play you should feel free to use the red jack as long as the other players are agreeable. The red jack was designed to be a “leisure” or “recreational” jack, so if anybody in your group is playing with leisure boules, your group should have no problem using the red jack. The red jack does meet the size and weight requirements for jacks, just as leisure boules meet the size and weight requirements for boules.

The long answer
Let’s start with some information about the jack itself.

  • Decathlon was selling the red jack internationally as early as 2019, but it only appeared on the American Decathlon web store in the spring of 2021.
  • The distinctive feature of the red jack is that it is paramagnetic, that is, you can pick it up with a magnetic boule lifter.
  • Structurally, it is different from Obut’s “black jack”, which is made of hard epoxy resin mixed with iron filings. The Geologic red jack is made out of a different material (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and it has a solid iron core which gives it 50% of its total weight.
  • The red jack is 29.5mm in diameter and weighs 17g.
  • The Decathlon webpage for the red jack clearly states— Use restriction: This jack cannot be used in official competitions.

The primary reason that the red jack cannot be used in FIPJP-sanctioned competitions is that synthetic jacks (i.e. non-wooden jacks, whether or not they are paramagnetic) are not allowed in FIPJP-sanctioned competitions unless they are FIPJP-approved. The red jack is not FIPJP-approved. Therefore it is not allowed in FIPJP-sanctioned competitions.

Another way of saying the same thing is that the red jack is deliberately designed to be a “leisure” or “recreational” jack, just as some boules are deliberately designed to be leisure boules. So, as I noted earlier, if anybody in your group is playing with leisure boules, there is no reason not to use the red jack.

“Legal” vs “approved”
The FIPJP requirements for jacks are contained in two documents. The first is the official FIPJP international rules for the sport of petanque, which determines whether or not a particular model of boule or jack is “legal” for competition play. The second is Fabricants de Boules: Labels des Boules et Buts agréés en compétition, which determines what models of boules and synthetic jacks are “approved” for competition play. In order for you to be allowed to use a boule or a synthetic jack in competition play, the boule or jack must be both “approved” and “legal”.
Note that it is possible for a synthetic jack to be “approved” but not “legal”. (Obut’s black jack, although approved, is not legal because it weighs more than the maximum allowed weight of 18g, as specified in the rules of the sport.) Petanque rules wonks are surely asking whether the red jack is “legal” in the sense of— Is the red jack (given its size and weight) acceptable under the rules for the sport of petanque? The answer to that question is YES. Just as leisure boules meet the size and weight requirements for boules, the red jack meets the size and weight requirements for jacks.

I will close with a bit of gossip. A few customers have complained (in customer reviews) that their magnetic boule lifters won’t pick up the red jack. A customer service rep has replied that “There is indeed a competitor’s boule lifter that doesn’t work very well with these jacks. We will fix that in a second version.” If this is something you experience, you can complain to Decathlon and get a refund. But my advice would be to get a better boule lifter or make your own.

Petanque rules quiz 001

Two players are playing singles.  In the middle of the second mène (end, round), the score is 1-0. This happens.
A) Is the jack dead or alive?
B) Assuming the jack is dead, which player plays the next boule? Why?
C) Assuming the jack is alive, which player plays the next boule? Why?

This one is just for fun. There are 5 questions; two points per question. Ten points wins you bragging rights. Entries will be judged on correctness, completeness, and clarity. Submit your answers in a comment. This post will be edited to provide the correct answers and name the winners.

Quiz closes midnight, Wednesday April 28, 2021. The quiz is now closed. But if you would like to challenge yourself, you’re still free to take it. The answers are available HERE.

Agreeing the points – a useful tip

Raymond Ager is living in France now, and (obviously!) has been playing a lot of pétanque. Recently he gave me a great tip that he’s picked up while playing there.

During the agreement of points, the team that lost the end removes what they consider are the opponent’s scoring boules.

That way it’s perfectly clear that the losing team accepts those boules as scoring boules.

What often happens is that the winning team is eager to claim their points. They walk to the head, say something like “well, 3 points for sure”, and immediately remove their supposedly-scoring boules before the opponents have a chance to verify and agree. That’s when the arguments begin— “But you only had 2”, etc. etc. That’s why this tip is so useful. It forestalls that kind of debate.

It’s so useful, in fact, that I think it should be expanded into a general “best practices” recommendation—

At the agreement of points, when it is clear which team is the losing team, the losing team should be in charge of the agreement of points. That is, the losing team should be responsible for removing boules that they agree are scoring boules, and then should be responsible for measuring other boules that need measuring.

This rule needs a snappy name to make it easier to remember and use. Perhaps (in the spirit of “Mugs away!”) something like “Mugs measure!”

Terminology – What is a mène (end, round)?

The basic subdivision of a game of petanque is a mène, pronounced like the English word “men”. Roughly speaking, a mène consists of three activities – placing the circle and throwing the jack, throwing the boules, and the agreement of points. A 1971 Canadian Petanque Federation rules booklet defines a mène this way–

When all of the players have played all of their boules, we say that they have played a mène. A game is composed of whatever number of mènes is necessary for one of the teams to score a winning number of points.

As a subdivision of a game, a mène is similar to an “end” in curling or lawn bowls (a traditional British boules-type game), a “frame” in American bowling, an “inning” in baseball, a “round” in boxing, or a “set” in tennis.

  • The English version of the FIPJP rules is a translation into British English, so it translates mène using the lawn bowls term “end“.
  • When Jean Bontemps made the first American English translation in the 1960s, he translated mène using the American baseball term “inning“.
  • American petanque players often refer to a mène as a “round“.
  • The most literal English translation of the ordinary French word mène is probably “direction“, as in “First we played in one direction, then we turned around and played in the other direction.”[1]

In my opinion, in the context of the rules of petanque, mène should be treated as a game-specific technical term and simply adopted, not translated. Every sport has its own specialized terminology for the subdivisions of a game. Tennis has sets, baseball has innings, boxing has rounds, basketball has quarters, bowling has frames. Why shouldn’t petanque have mènes? In English we can make one concession to English-language spelling conventions— we can omit the accent and write simply “mene“.

One of the frequently-asked questions about menes is “When does a mene start and end?” Another way of asking the same question is: “What kinds of events mark the start, and the finish, of a mene?” You can find the answer to that question HERE.


[1] The French word mène, when used as a verb, means to lead, to go to, to take to, to conduct.

Cette porte mène à la cave.
This door leads to the cellar.
This door goes to the cellar.
This door takes you to the cellar.

When mène is used as a noun— la mène— the most literal English translation is probably “a direction”, as in “This door is the way to the cellar. This door is the direction to the cellar.”

2020 rules – removing the “moistening” rule

[For other posts about the 2020 rules and changes to the rules, see THIS.]
For many years, Article 16 of the FIPJP rules said this: “It is forbidden to moisten the boules or the jack.”   Its counterpart in the rules of Petanque Libre was: When a player plays a boule, the boule must be clean and dry (weather permitting). I assumed that it was an anti-mud rule, like the rule that you must clean mud off of a boule before measuring. (You have to measure to the surface of the boule, not to the surface of a mud coating.)

It seemed a straightforward rule, so I was surprised when it was removed in 2020. If it was so straightforward, then why, I wondered, was it removed? And I began to wonder— If the FIPJP international umpires were so willing to remove it, why was it in the rules in the first place? I started surfing around the web, looking for answers.

Why did the moistening rule exist in the first place?

When I was a beginning player, a friend told me that a wet boule will pick up dirt as it rolls, slowing it down. To my friend, playing with a wet boule was like playing with a stuffed boule— a form of cheating. Just as stuffed boules are forbidden, so wet boules are forbidden.

This seemed implausible to me. It seemed unlikely that a wet boule could pick up enough dirt as it rolled to significantly affect its motion. If it could, the amount of dirt and its effect would be unpredictable.

Another theory is that the rule is designed to keep players from spitting on their boules, a gross, unhygienic practice that harms the image of the game. Not likely. If you want to prohibit players from spitting on their boules, write a rule prohibiting spitting on boules, like the rule that prohibits smoking during a game.

There is another theory. With a bit of moisture on a boule, some players can throw a boule whose trajectory will curve in mid-air, like a spitball in baseball. That gives skillful players an unfair advantage over less-skillful players, an advantage that is somehow “outside the spirit of the game.” But I don’t buy that, either. First, I doubt that it is possible to throw a curving spitball with a petanque boule. Certainly, it has never been shown to be possible. Even if it is possible, I don’t think that it would be a useful skill in petanque— unlike in baseball, a shooter or a pointer isn’t trying to get around an opposing player standing in the head. And even if it is useful, I see no reason to ban it. Certainly there is nothing unfair about some players being more skillful than others.

Another theory is that a little moisture on the hand (and so on the boule) gives a player a better grip on the boule. This seems to me plausible and true. Jac Verheul says—

During a lot of years I played with a wet towel. Not in order to moisten my boules, but just to moisten my hand. In that time I played with stainless steel boules that always slipped out of my hand, even when they had some grooves. But since about 2004 I play with carbon steel boules, and there is no more reason to moisten my hand. It’s all a question of a good ‘grip’.

Behind many of these theories, in addition to the idea that playing with wet boules must provide some kind of advantage, is the idea that that advantage— whatever it is— must somehow be unfair. I don’t understand that idea, and 15 years ago neither did Graeme Burnard. Graeme was (still is?) a member of Petanque New Zealand. In 2006, he wrote a post called Rules, Rules, Bloody Rules in which he rails against petanque rules that make no sense— stupid rules. One of the stupid rules is the moistening rule, aka the “wetting the rag rule”.

I understand it is illegal to wet one’s rag as “it gives one an unfair advantage”. Excuse me? Isn’t that about as silly as banning sunglasses, hats with a brim, sleeveless shirts… Wouldn’t they all give you some advantage over someone who was wearing no hat, and wearing overalls and woolen long johns when it’s 30 degrees Centigrade.

Listening to Jac and Graeme, I’m beginning to understand that for all practical purposes, the moistening rule wasn’t a rule against moistening the boules. It was a rule against playing with a wet boule towel.

This is from Graeme’s post.

Anyway, the whole reason for putting pen to paper was about a rule I discovered whilst playing in the Kapiti Open Doubles last weekend and I have to confess that I cheated during the tournament. Not only did I cheat, I knowingly cheated, and not only did I knowingly cheat, I enjoyed cheating knowingly. It is so bad, I can’t bring myself to mention it, but I have to because I wouldn’t be able to face my conscience ever again. I…….., I………, I………(come on Graeme, be brave), I……… WET MY RAG!!! There, I’ve said it!!. Oh, the relief!!!!

Yes, I wet my rag. Oh my God. I gave myself an advantage over the other 47 teams. It worked too. We went from 27th to 26th place. Now, I understand it is illegal to wet one’s rag as it gives one an unfair advantage over the opposition. Excuse me? Isn’t that about as silly as banning sunglasses, hats with a brim, sleeveless shirts, crutchless underwear. Wouldn’t they all give you some advantage over someone who was wearing no hat, and wearing overalls and woolen long johns when it’s 30 degrees Centigrade.

I actually used my rag to put around my neck to cool off. Having suffered in the last 12 years from Legionnaires Disease, a heart attack and a mild stroke (and I am not yet 50) I get tired easily and feel the heat and now some tosser is going to tell me I cannot wet my rag to cool off. Apparently the rule actually relates to wetting your boule, but I cannot see how that can give you an advantage. What scientific studies have been done to ascertain this and wouldn’t the boule blow dry itself as it sailed through the air on its way to a perfect carreau so any advantage would soon disappear?

I understand that one player in last year’s Trans Tasman had his wet rag taken off him. I mean, really, have you ever heard of anything so stupid.

In a comment on the post, Andy Gilbert (National & International Arbiter) wrote—

As you mentioned there was a recent incident at the Trans Tasman. Unfortunately I was the official at that infamous game. Acting on direct instructions from the international arbiter, Andre Deramond, to enforce the ‘wet rag rule’ throughout the tourney I called the Tahiti team captain for using a wet rag and asked her to take it away from the terrain. With ill grace she tossed it to the side. The other team members also made a hasty effort to change rags before I inspected them. I assume they were all using moistened rags.

So again we see the moistening rule being interpreted as forbidding players from playing with a wet boule towel.


There are a couple of comments on Graeme’s post that I find especially interesting. In the first, Tom van Bodegraven says—

I agree with the essence of what Graeme Burnard wrote. If a rule makes absolutely no sense and can not be justified through common sense or science, it should be removed. [Other commenters] have brought up many examples of the absurdity of Art. 16. I do not know how and when this Article 16 came about, but I feel the people responsible [i.e. the FIPJP international umpires who wrote Article 16] should be charged with bringing the game into disrepute. Maybe a submission should be tabled at the forthcoming PNZ AGM for the removal of Art. 16 from our NZ playing rules.

In the second, Michael E writes—

If the rule is stupid then we (or PNZ) do have the right to change it. We’re not beholden to FIPJP as to how the game is played in this country.

Note that what we’re seeing in these two comments is a grassroots call for the removal of the moistening rule. This is in 2006, 15 years before the FIPJP actually did remove it.

In another comment, Michael E notes that although New Zealand umpires interpret the moistening rule as a ban on wet boule towels, some other umpires do not.

During the World Championships 2006 Final, one of the Belgian players grabbed a bottle of water, wet his rag, and rung it out over the terrain. This was in front of the crowd, the opposition, on national TV, and with two arbitres… who watched him and took no action.

Michael goes on to make the same point that Jac Verheul made earlier.—

Most of the reasons given for a supposed advantage [of playing with a wet rag] are ridiculous and unfounded. I know myself, and I’ve spoken to many players who play with a wet rag, and the perceived benefit is only that the contact between the ball and the hand is ‘cleaner’ if the hand is slightly damp. Remember the rag is damp, not wet. Any moisture applied to the ball will evaporate before it is played anyway.

All of that was being floated as long ago as 2006. And it still is. Apparently, not long ago, at an international competition, there was an incident involving an umpire, a wet boule towel, and a Thai player who was using the wet boule towel to help keep cool. (I don’t know any more details of the incident. If you do, I’d appreciate it if you left a comment.)

What was the moistening rule REALLY about?

I think it’s fair to say that nobody has been able to offer a good reason for the moistening rule, and that nobody knows why the rule was originally inserted into the FIPJP rules. What is certain, however, is that umpires widely interpreted the rule as banning players from playing with wet boule towels or rags.

This is a problem. Many players actually do like to use a wet boule towel, and they have good reasons for doing so. In hot, tropical climates, carrying a wet boule towel can help a player stay cool. A wet boule towel can help keep a player’s hands from becoming uncomfortably dry. Above all, a wet boule towel may improve a player’s grip by keeping his/her hands slightly damp.

These benefits (or “advantages” if you will) should be available to all players. Some players believe that the FIPJP rules forbid players from wearing gloves because wearing gloves gives a player an “unfair advantage”. They are mistaken. The FIPJP rules do not forbid glove-wearing, and any benefits/advantages that gloves confer are not unfair— they are available to all players equally. If I’m wearing gloves and you want to wear gloves too, you can. The same (now, in 2021) is finally true of carrying a wet boule towel.

Why was the moistening rule removed?

Now that it’s gone, we can ask: Why was the moistening rule removed?

Mike Pegg says that the rule was removed “because it is extremely difficult if not impossible for the umpire to enforce/check that each and every player is not using a damp cloth.” Note Mike’s reference— not to damp boules but to a damp cloth.

I doubt if we’re ever going to find out why the moistening rule was removed now, in 2020. But given that there never was a good reason for the rule, and given the fact that players have been deeply unhappy with the rule for decades, it seems silly to ask why the rule was removed now. The appropriate question is— Why wasn’t it removed years ago?