Colored penalty cards

updated 2021-04-09

Around 2011, national petanque federations started to adopt the use of colored penalty cards. Australia and New Zealand began using them, and they were used about the same time in the FIPJP world championships. In 2014, a meeting of international umpires voted to include them in the FIPJP rules; they first appeared in Article 35 of the 2016 version of the FIPJP rules.

The colored cards are called “penalty cards” or “signal cards”. Different colors mean different things, depending on the sport in which they are being used. In petanque, the four penalties in Article 35 are indicated by a scheme of three colors (yellow, orange, red). The mapping is a bit rough, but basically—

  yellow  :: a warning
  orange  :: disqualification of one or more boules
  red     :: disqualification of one or more players

Here are a couple of graphics that explain the meanings of the colors in greater detail. This first graphic was created before the 2016 rules revision, which eliminating some duplicate penalties.

This graphic is from the web site of the New Zealand Petanque Federation.

How do penalty cards work?

Penalty cards are sort of like traffic tickets.  

Suppose you’re out driving, going a bit over the speed limit, and you get pulled over by a police officer. Because it’s your first offense, and because it isn’t too serious, he gives you a stern talking-to and lets you go with a warning.

That’s the FIRST time you get caught speeding.  If you get caught a SECOND time, you don’t get another warning — you get a ticket.

It’s the same with umpires and penalty cards.   If an umpire notices a player (or players) engaging in some sort of inappropriate behavior, and it’s their first time and not too serious, he will probably warn them, and show a yellow warning card.  A yellow warning card doesn’t carry any kind of penalty or punishment— it’s just… well… a warning.

But repeated or more serious offenses CAN trigger penalties. An orange card indicates that the umpire has disqualified one of the player’s boules. A red card indicates that the umpire has disqualified a players from the remainder of the game (or possibly even from the entire competition).

Petanque penalties are like traffic citations in other ways, too.

  • There is no rule saying that for your first offense you always get off with just a warning.  If the offense is bad enough, you can be slapped with a penalty (indicated by an orange or red card) for a first offense.
  • You get only one warning. After being warned once, a second offense will almost certainly result in a penalty.
  • If you do multiple Bad Things at the same time, you can be warned or cited for multiple violations.

A short history of penalty cards

Colored penalty cards were invented in 1966 during the FIFA (soccer/football) World Cup. A quarter-final game was being played between an English-speaking team and a Spanish-speaking team, with a German-speaking referee. During the game the referee gave two English-speaking players warnings and expelled a Spanish-speaking player, but because of language differences many of the players and many of the spectators didn’t understand what he was doing.

British referee Ken Aston was acting as head referee for the tournament, and after the game he began wondering if there might be a way for a referee to make his decisions clear regardless of language. Thinking about this problem as he was driving home, Aston was stopped by a traffic light. In a flash of inspiration he realized that language issues could be bypassed by using the colors of traffic lights. “As I drove down Kensington High Street, the traffic light turned red. I thought, ‘Yellow, take it easy; red, stop, you’re off’.”

Colored cards (yellow for a warning, red for an expulsion) were introduced during the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico. After that, they were quickly adopted by other sports. When other sports started using colored cards, they added other colors to suit the needs of their particular sport. Petanque, for example, introduced an orange card. In some sports, a black card was adopted to indicate the disqualification of a player. Other sports use blue, green, or white cards.


  • The Wikipedia entry on PENALTY CARDS is a good source of information about the uses and meanings of colored cards in various sports.


  • There is an interesting article on black cards HERE (our archived copy is HERE).




[updated: 2021-06-12]
Sometimes it’s not clear how we should apply the rules, and we need to appeal for help to some higher-level principle. I think these principles are generally recognized.

When a player has performed an illegal action, the motive or cause for the illegal action is irrelevant when considering what to do next. Often it is impossible to tell intentional cheating from an unintentional accident. But we don’t need to be able to do that. Players are responsible for playing carefully as well as ethically. Carelessness and sloppiness (manifested as ignorance of the rules, clumsiness, mistakes, or accidents) are as unacceptable as deliberate cheating.

The No Unfair Advantage Rule — An offending team may not benefit from its illegal action. If the offending team performs an illegal action (deliberately or not) and thereby gains some advantage, that advantage is unfair because it was gained illegally. That advantage should be removed by whatever corrective action we decide to take.

The Advantage Rule. The Advantage Rule is a corollary to The No Unfair Advantage rule. When an illegal action has been performed, then the offended team may choose how to proceed. Typical choices for the offended team include: (a) undoing the effects of the illegal action, and then continuing play, or (b) leaving the effects of the illegal action unchanged and continuing play.

Reasoning by analogy is permitted. This is especially true and necessary when there doesn’t seem to be ANY rule that covers a particular situation.