What is an obstacle?

“What is an obstacle?” is probably the most-frequently-asked question about the rules.

Note that this post was written when the 2010 rules were still in effect. The wording in the 2016 rules may have changed slightly. Article 18 is now Article 19 and Article 24 is now Article 25.

Reading the rules, one gets the impression that there is a special class of objects called “obstacles”. But that is NOT true. Wherever it appears, the word “obstacle” refers to anything (any kind of object) that would interfere with the normal course of some activity or process. In order to understand what the word “obstacle” means in any given rule, we need to figure out for that rule: (a) what activity or process is the subject of that rule, and (b) what kinds of things can interfere with that activity or process. If we do that, we see that—

  • Articles 6 and 7 discuss obstacles to throwing.
  • Articles 10, 18, and 24 discuss obstacles to other processes.

Articles 6 and 7

The subject of Articles 6 and 7 is the placement of the circle. In that context, “obstacle” refers to any physical object or feature of the terrain that, because it is close to the throwing circle, might interfere with a player’s normal throwing form. We can call such obstacles “throwing obstacles“.

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.  So does the backswing of a player standing in the throwing circle of a nearby game of petanque.  Even a low boulder on the terrain, or a wooden surround, can count as an obstacle if it might interfere with the backswing of a squatting pointer.

A throwing obstacle

A throwing obstacle

The category of “throwing obstacles” also includes features of the terrain that might interfere with a player’s footing.  A fish pond, a big patch of slippery mud, a deep puddle of rainwater, a patch of ground that is too irregular for a player to stand with a solid footing— all of these count as throwing obstacles.

The purpose of Articles 6 and 7 is to move the circle away from throwing obstacles, and especially from anything that might interfere with a player’s backswing. The rules assume that a player’s backswing won’t extend more than a meter outside the throwing circle. So these rules require the throwing circle to be at least one meter from any throwing obstacle. And in a proactive effort to avoid issues with the position of the circle in the next mene, the rules require that in this mene the thrown jack must be a meter from anything that might be a throwing obstacle in the next mene.

Articles 10, 18, 24

In other articles, the word “obstacle” can be changed to “something” or “anything” without changing the meaning of the rule.

In Article 10, an “obstacle” is any natural feature of the terrain that might prevent a pointed boule from rolling in a steady straight line. 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, he is not allowed to do so. Such “obstacles” are natural features of the terrain, and may not be changed during a game.

It is strictly forbidden for players to press down, displace or crush any obstacle whatsoever that is located on the game terrain.

In Article 18, an “obstacle” is anything that causes a boule to bounce back in-bounds after it has gone out-of-bounds.

[If a boule goes out-of-bounds and] 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 place.

In Article 24, an “obstacle” is something on the terrain (a big rock, a tree root) that gets in the way of measurement.

In order to measure a point, it is allowed to temporarily remove, after marking their positions, the boules and obstacles situated between the jack and the boules to be measured. After the measurement [has been made], the boules and the obstacles which were picked up are put back in their place. If the obstacles cannot be removed, the measurement of the point is done with the aid of a calipers.

Are things ABOVE the ground “obstacles”?
If a thrown boule or jack hits something ABOVE the terrain, is it dead?

Article 18 says that a boule is dead if it goes out-of-bounds, hits an “obstacle”, and then comes back on to the terrain. So the real question here is “Are objects above the terrain out-of-bounds?” And the answer is— NO, they are not. Objects directly above the terrain have the same status as natural features on the terrain like stones and tree roots. As long as they are inside the imaginary invisible walls created by vertically projecting the dead-ball lines into the sky, they are in-bounds.

That means that there is no reason to declare a boule or a jack to be dead if it hits an overhanging tree branch, a low-hanging light fixture, or a boulodrome ceiling. From the standpoint of the FIPJP rules, there is no difference between a thrown boule that hits an overhanging tree branch and a thrown boule that hits a stone on the ground. Note, however, that club rules or tournament rules may over-ride and adapt the international rules to local conditions. Local rules might, for instance, specify that the ceiling of an indoor boulodrome is to be considered out-of-bounds.

Here is an outdoor boulodrome in Seaside, Florida. Note the low-hanging light fixtures. They are in-bounds features of that terrain.