Sometimes a player picks up a boule too soon. It happens all the time. Given the frequency with which it happens, it’s amazing how much confusion there is about how to deal with it.
If a boule is picked up too soon, what should we do?
This question never comes up if the original location of the boule was marked. If the boule’s position was marked, we simply put the boule back and carry on with the game.
But what should we do if a boule is picked up too soon and its original location was NOT marked?
In order to deal with this question, we must look at two different circumstances in which a boule can be picked up prematurely.
- CASE A — A boule is picked up before all boules have been thrown.
- CASE B — A boule is picked up after all boules have been thrown, but before completion of the agreement of points.
These two cases are covered by different rules.
CASE A is covered by Article 21—
If a stationary boule is displaced by the wind or slope of the ground, it is put back in its place. The same applies to any boule accidentally displaced by a player….
A boule that is picked up by a player is considered to have been accidentally moved by the player. The corrective action specified in Article 21 is to put the boule back in its original place.
Article 21 doesn’t say anything about the boule’s original place being marked. Apparently the intent of the rule is that the players should agree among themselves as to the approximate original location of the boule, and then put it back there.
 If there is any question about where that original place is, then we should probably apply the Advantage Rule, and allow the offended party (the team whose boule was moved) to reposition the moved boule.
CASE B is covered by Article 26—
At the end of a mène, any boule picked up before the agreement of points is dead.
The corrective action specified in Article 26 is to declare the picked-up boule to be dead.
This corrective action is appropriate if the boule was picked up by the team to which it belongs. But it is clearly be unreasonable if it permits a player on one team to kill an opposing team’s boule simply by picking it up. That leaves us with a difficult question.
If, during the agreement of points, a member of one team picks up a boule belonging to the opposing team, what do we do?
If the picked-up boule could never have contributed to the score of the mene, then of course we don’t worry about it.
But if it might have contributed to the score, then the most reasonable thing is to apply the Advantage Rule and have the offended party (the team whose boule was picked up) reposition the boule in its original location. Then measurement and the agreement of points can carry on as before.
It is possible, of course, that the offended team will deliberately position the boule in a location that is different from, and more advantageous than, its true original location. That would be a violation of sportsmanship, certainly. But the offending team (the team that prematurely picked up their opponent’s boule) has no right to protest. It is the price that they must pay for their carelessness.
Note that the wording of Article 21 is almost identical to the wording of Article 11. Article 21 applies to boules, while Article 11 applies to the jack. Article 11 contains the clause “provided the position had been marked”, which Article 21 does not.
Article 11 contains three sentences that talk only about the jack. Then there is a fourth sentence with a rule for the umpires— “No claim can be accepted [by an umpire] regarding boules or jack whose position has not been marked.” A similar remark directed at umpires appears in Article 21. This mixing-in of rules for the umpires with rules for the players occurs in several places in the FIPJP rules, and is one of the most serious defects of the rules. It makes reliable interpretation of the FIPJP rules impossible. (See our post What’s wrong with the FIPJP rules.)
The opinion in this post follows the 2011 ruling by Jean-Claude Dubois, president of the French National Umpires Committee, on a related question— what to do when the circle is picked up too soon. It also follows our general principles for applying the rules.It is impossible, however, to know how a particular umpire in a particular game will rule.
This article was originally posted in April 2015, but almost completely re-written in October 2015. I have not deleted the comments on the original version, which may still be of value. But some of them may refer to text that does not appear in the current version of the post.