Colored penalty cards

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, so they almost certainly will be in the next 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 six penalties in Article 34 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. The first was provided by international umpire Mike Pegg. The second is from a page on the web site of the Australian Petanque Federation.

How do signal cards work?

Signal 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.

signal_card_and_umpire_02It’s the same with umpires and signal 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 signals that the umpire has disqualified one or more boules. A red card signals the disqualification of a player (or possibly even an entire team) 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.
  • If you offend again, you can be cited again.

A short history of signal cards

Colored signal 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, which added other colors to suit their particular needs. Petanque, for instance, introduced an orange card.

The Wikipedia entry on penalty cards is a good source of information about the uses and meanings of colored cards in a variety of sports.


Sometimes we encounter situations in which we’re not sure how to apply the rules, especially some of the more poorly-written rules. To help us make decisions in such situations, we need something more than just the rules. We need some higher-level principles to which we can appeal.

Such higher-level principles do exist. They exist in our own natural intuitions about fairness. In this post, I’m going to try to list, in writing, ways in which those principles can be applied in petanque.

Some of the most difficult situations are those in which one of the teams deliberately or accidentally breaks one of the rules. When this happens we will call the team that broke the rules the “offending” team. The other team is of course the “offended” team. Sometimes (e.g. in the case of a shot jack stopped by a spectator) there is an offended team without there being an offending team.

So with that preamble, let me present the candidates for…


The Consensus Rule — When an illegal action has been performed, it is permissible to continue in any way that is agreeable to both teams. Any other rule may be over-ridden by this rule. In particular:

  • When a boule or jack has been moved illegally, and its previous position had not been marked, the teams may agree on what its previous position was, and may agree to proceed as if its previous position had been marked.
  • If during a mene the game on the ground has been messed-up (i.e. changed illegally) and it is impossible to restore the game to its previous state, the teams may agree to replay the mene.
  • When the two teams cannot come to an agreement concerning a matter of fact, or an interpretation of the rules, the teams may agree to replay the mene.

Note that this principle cannot (of course!) be interpreted in such a way as to violate Article 34 and permit complicity (conspiracy to cheat) between the two teams.
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 it is not really necessary 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.

This strict attitude is entirely appropriate for umpires and tournaments. In informal play among friends, it may be over-ridden by a consensus (see Rule 1, above) that the violation was accidental and so not to be taken too seriously.

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.

There have been cases where Team A performed an illegal action (say, picking up an opposing team’s boule before the end of the mène) and the umpire made a ruling based on a very narrow interpretation of the rules (the boule is dead) that made the illegal action work to the advantage of Team A. In our opinion, such rulings are wrong.

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

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.