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.


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