Who makes the rules?

The FIPJP international rules of petanque are made by the FIPJP International Umpires Commission. The FIPJP International Umpires Commission is a committee whose members are the FIPJP authorized international umpires (arbitres internationaux). The commission considers changes to the rules, and may propose a new version of the rules, every two years in even-numbered years — 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, etc.

The normal practice is for the Commission to work on modifications to the rules for 12 months or more, and then to forward the revised version of the rules to the FIPJP Executive Committee for consideration at its spring meeting in April. In theory, the FIPJP Executive Committee then forwards the revised version to the national federations for comments and feedback.

Finally, the revised version is formally introduced and approved at the World Congress, which is held at the same time and place as the the World Championships (usually in September, October, or November). The FIPJP releases the rules in two languages — French (the official language) and English, and they are posted on the FIPJP’s web site.

Once the FIPJP rules are released, each national federation adopts the new international rules as their own national rules. For some nations (Spain, for instance) adopting the rules means translating the French-language version of the rules into the national language.

Often a national federation will modify the FIPJP rules before adopting them. Modifications can vary from terminology changes (to make the wording more idiomatic for a particular nation) to actual changes in rules. For example, in 2006, the FIPJP approved the use of synthetic (that is, non-wood) jacks, but the FPUSA later modified its national version of the rules to forbid synthetic jacks.

The World Championships mark the culmination of one year’s season of play and the beginning of another. Once the FIPJP approves and releases a revised version of the rules, the revised version comes into effect immediately and applies to the next season. However, because the World Congress is held toward the end of the year, and it takes some time for national federations to evaluate, modify, and adopt a revised version of the rules, most national versions of the rules are dated with the year after the year when the FIPJP version was approved.

— Thanks to Mike Pegg and his Ask the Umpire Facebook page for much of this information.

It is not clear exactly when a new version of the rules goes into effect. Each rules document gives the date and location of the World Congress where the new version was accepted, but does not specify when the new version of the rules goes into effect.

Mike Pegg has said on his Ask The Umpire page that a new version goes into effect immediately after it has been accepted by the World Congress. But he has also said, in the introduction to the BPA’s English translation of the 2002 rules, that they go into effect on the first day of the following year.

The rule changes that were agreed at the World Congress of the Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal in Grenoble in 2002, and which come into effect on 1 January 2003, have been incorporated into this new translation of the Règlement Officiel de Pétanque.

Dead ground

See other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.

Terrain autorisé is territory where a boule or jack may move safely. In contrast, terrain interdit is territory that kills balls that enter it. A live boule or jack immediately becomes dead if it lands in, or crosses, a patch of terrain interdit.

For the sake of consistency, we prefer to translate terrain autorisé and terrain interdit as “in-bounds” and “out-of-bounds”. However, the expression terrain interdit literally means “forbidden territory” and other translators prefer to translate it as “dead ground”.

A patch of dead ground can come between the jack and the throwing circle if the terrain has an irregular shape, so that a patch of terrain interdit intrudes into the terrain autorisé. You can see a good example in the petanque court in Urban Park, Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA.


The court is designed to fit around several pre-existing trees. On this terrain it is possible for a shot jack to fly sideways and end up around a corner, so that there is dead ground (an out-of-bounds area, terrain interdit) between it and the throwing circle.

Some umpires interpret the rules so that there is a second kind of situation in which a patch of dead ground can come between the jack and the throwing circle. We discuss that situation in our post on the Puddle Rule.

Dead-ball lines

See other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.

A dead-ball line, une ligne de perte, is a line that, like James Bond, is licensed to kill. More precisely, a dead-ball line is a line that kills any live ball — boule or jack — that crosses it.

To start, there is a difference between a guide line and a dead-ball line. When a playing area is marked off into lanes (cadres, pistes) the lines (usually strings) that mark the edges of the individual lanes are called “guide lines”. Depending on the context, any particular guide line may or may not also be considered a dead-ball line.

Note also that older versions of the FIPJP rules used the expression “THE dead-ball line”, implying that there is only one dead-ball line. The current version of the rules uses the expression “a dead-ball line”, which implies that there are several dead ball lines.

To make it easier to explain dead-ball lines, I am going to classify them into three types. (Note: the FIPJP rules don’t do this.) I’m going to call the three types exterior, interior, and local dead-ball lines.

  • Local dead-ball lines are tied to a specific game — they are the local dead-ball lines for that game.
  • The exterior and interior dead-ball lines are global — they apply to every game being played in the playing area.

Here are the definitions and explanations exterior, interior, and local dead-ball lines.

  1. The outer edges of the playing area (aire de jeu) are exterior dead-ball lines. A live boule or jack, from any game, is dead if it crosses any exterior dead-ball line.

    Together, the exterior dead-ball lines form a single closed boundary line around the entire playing area. This boundary is what the rules used to refer to as “the dead-ball line”.
  2. For games played on rectangular lanes (cadres, pistes) the boundary lines at the short ends of the lanes are interior dead-ball lines. A live boule or jack, from any game, is dead if it crosses any interior dead-ball line.
  3. Each game has its own local dead-ball lines. In a normal (non-time-limited) game, the far sidelines of the neighboring lanes are the local dead-ball lines. In a time-limited game, the sidelines of the assigned lane are the game’s local dead-ball lines.

The diagram below shows the situation in normal (non-time-limited) games.

Two terms related to “dead-ball line” (ligne de perte) are “in-bounds” (terrain autorisé) and “out-of-bounds” (terrain interdit).

The combination of the global and local dead-ball lines determines which areas are terrain autorisé and terrain interdite for any particular game. For a game played under a time limit (au temps limité), the assigned lane is in-bounds, and everything else is out-of-bounds. For a normal (non-time-limited game) the assigned lane PLUS any neighboring lanes are in-bounds, and everything else is out-of-bounds. Often a game’s in-bounds area will include three lanes — its own assigned lane PLUS the neighboring lane on one side PLUS the neighboring lane on the other side.

At one time, the rules actually did specify something called “THE dead-ball line”. It ran around the outside of the playing area, and could be drawn anywhere from zero to four meters from the exterior lanes.

The vagueness in the specifications for the location of the dead-ball line caused a lot of confusion, so those specifications were removed in 2008. Amazingly, nobody noticed that in removing the specifications of the LOCATION of the dead-ball line, they had removed ALL specifications of the dead-ball line! The exterior dead-ball line had disappeared!

When the dead-ball line made it back into Article 5 in 2010, it was no longer “THE dead-ball line”. It was “dead-ball lines” in the plural. And it was no longer something separate from, and outside of, the playing area— it was simply the outer boundary of the exterior lanes in the playing area.

[The] strings marking the boundaries of the different terrains are not dead-ball lines except for the lines at the foot of lanes and the lines of the exterior lanes.

The authors of the FIPJP rules haven’t yet realized that the abolition of the dead-ball line (as something different from the outer edge of the playing area) makes the whole notion of “dead-ball lines” pointless. It is now possible to express all of the rules in terms of one simple concept— the terrain autorisé. In English, we might call it the game area. The game area for any given game is the area where a boule can travel and still be a part of the game, still alive.

  1. The game area for a time-limited game is the assigned lane.
  2. The game area for a non-time-limited game includes the assigned lane and any neighboring lanes.
  3. The jack may not be thrown to a position less than a meter from the boundary of the game area.
  4. A boule or jack is dead if it leaves the game area.

We could still use the expression “dead-ball line” if we found it handy. It would simply mean the edge or boundary of the game area.

The two games known as “petanque”

I find it helpful to think of the FIPJP rules as a mixture of rules for two different games, which have quite different conceptual structures.

Traditional Petanque is played on an open, unmarked terrain (terrain libre). The fundamental rules of the game are expressed in terms of distances from the only fixed point on the terrain, the circle.

  • 3 meters – A hit jack is dead if it ends up less than 3 meters from the circle.
  • 6 meters – A thrown jack is invalid if it ends up less than 4 meters from the circle.
  • 10 meters – A thrown jack is invalid if it ends up more than 10 meters from the circle.
  • 20 meters – A hit jack is dead if it ends up more than 20 meters from the circle.

Competition Petanque is played on a terrain that has marked boundary lines (un terrain délimité or terrain tracé). Most FIPJP rules assume that the game is being played in a competition, on a playing area that is divided (as in this diagram) into a grid of lanes (cadres).

In English, the lines in the grid (traditionally, strings strung tightly between nails driven into the ground) are called “guide-lines”. In French they are simply called “strings” (ficelles) or “lines” (lignes).

Each game is assigned to be played on one of the lanes, and that lane then becomes the “assigned lane” (cadre affecté or cadre attribué) for the game.
The game’s in-bounds area (terrain autorisé) may or may not be the same as its assigned lane.

For time-limited games, the game’s in-bounds area is its assigned lane.

For non-time-limited games, the game’s in-bounds area includes the game’s assigned lane, plus any neighboring lane(s) with which it shares a long side. So in the diagram, for a non-time-limited game whose assigned lane is A, the in-bounds area includes lanes A and B. For a game whose assigned lane is B, the in-bounds area includes lanes A, B, and C.

The guide-lines that enclose the in-bounds area (terrain autorisé) for a game are traditionally called the game’s dead-ball lines (lignes de pertes). For any given game, the area outside of the game’s dead-ball lines is out-of-bounds for the game (terrain interdit). Any live boule or jack in a game is dead if it crosses one of the game’s dead-ball lines, that is, crosses from terrain autorisé into terrain interdit. A thrown jack is invalid if it lands less than one meter from terrain interdit.

Regardless of the size or shape of a game’s in-bounds area, the circle must always be placed, and the jack must always be thrown, within the guide-lines of the game’s assigned lane.

In contrast to Traditional Petanque, then, the fundamental rules for Competition Petanque are NOT expressed in terms of distance. The fundamental rules of Competition Petanque are expressed in terms of lines and areas — guide-lines and dead-ball lines, the assigned lane and in-bounds areas (terrain autorisé) and out-of-bounds areas (terrain interdit).