When a leaf hides the jack

A leaf is hiding the jack. Should we pick up the leaf, or declare the jack dead?

The rules of petanque have a hard time dealing with leaves on the terrain.


  • A leaf blows onto the terrain and hides the jack. What do you do?
  • Answer— You remove the leaf and continue the game.


  • There is a leaf on the terrain. The jack is hit and rolls behind this leaf, so that the jack is now hidden by the leaf. What do you do?
  • Answer— You declare the jack dead.

In CASE A you cite Article 11 — “If, during a mene, the jack is suddenly hidden by a leaf of a tree or a piece of paper, these objects are removed.”

In CASE B you cite Article 9 — “If a jack is still in-bounds of the terrain, but cannot be seen from the circle, it is dead.”

[The French expression opiner à means “to consent to”. So the adverb inopinément in Article 11, which I’ve translated as “suddenly”, carries a suggestion of something that happens quickly and without one’s consent.]

When we think about all of the kinds of things that can happen during a game of petanque, it’s helpful to distinguish two different types of objects.

  • Game objects are things that can legally cause physical events in the game. Game objects include the jack, the boules, the players, and the terrain.
  • Foreign agents are things that can cause physical events in the game, but not legally. A foreign agent is anything that blows, rolls, flies, falls, bounces, or walks onto (or across) the terrain and interferes with the game.

One vivid example of a foreign agent is this — “a troublemaker”.

A leaf that blows onto the terrain and hides the jack is a foreign agent. The wind that moves a stationary jack is a foreign agent. Anything external to the game – an animal, a child, a bouncing football, a boule from another game – that comes onto the terrain and interferes with the game is a foreign agent. Spectators, players, and even umpires are foreign agents if they interfere with a game by stopping a moving ball, or moving a stopped ball.

When a foreign agent makes a physical event happen, whatever the foreign agent did or caused to happen should be undone, if possible. After giving the example of leaves or pieces of paper blown onto the terrain by the wind, Article 11 goes on to say

If a stopped jack comes to be displaced, because of the wind or the slope of the ground for example, or accidentally by the umpire, a player, a spectator, a boule or a jack coming from another game, an animal or any moving object, it is returned to its original position, provided that it had been marked.

So it’s easy to know what to do when a foreign agent, a leaf, blows onto the terrain and hides the jack. You remove it.

The French Federation of Petanque (FFPJP ) publishes a document called Code d’Arbitrage — the “Umpire’s Handbook”. The discussion of Article 11 in the Handbook is interesting because it distinguishes between what I’ve called CASE A and CASE B.

Si en cours de mène, le but est masqué inopinément par une feuille d’arbre ou un morceau de papier, enlever cet objet. Si le but est déplacé sous un tas de feuilles et devient invisible, il est nul.
Remove the leaf: the jack is good Dead jack
If, during a mene, the jack is suddenly hidden by a leaf of a tree or a piece of paper, remove the object. If the jack is knocked into a pile of leaves and is no longer visible, it is dead.

Note that the first sentence is not a direct quote from the rules. If it were, the last clause would be ces objets sont enlevés (“the objects [plural] are picked up”), not enlever cet objet (“pick up the object [singlular]“).

What’s good about this discussion is that it points out the difference between CASE A and CASE B. What’s unfortunate is the way that it tries to convey the difference in pictures.

When thinking about situations like these, it helps to ask — “In this case, what is moving and what is not?”

  • In CASE A it is the leaves that are moving; they are blown onto the terrain. The jack has not moved.
  • In CASE B it is the jack that is moving; it is knocked behind or into the leaves. The leaves were on the terrain at the beginning of the game. They have not moved.

In CASE A the moving object was a foreign agent, the leaf. In CASE B the moving object was a game object, the jack.

A static picture (basically, a snapshot) can’t show the important difference between CASE A and CASE B — the difference in the object that moved. In the pictures, the only visible difference is in the number of leaves. Looking at them one might get the impression that if only one leaf is involved, the leaf should be removed. But if two leaves are involved, the jack is dead.

That would be a silly way to interpret the rules, of course. But in a question on International Umpire Mike Pegg’s “Ask the Umpire” Facebook group, it was reported that French trainers from the FIPJP, giving an umpire training course in Bangkok, were asked what should be done if TWO pieces of paper were to blow onto the terrain and mask the jack. The trainers insisted that Article 11 permitted the removal of one – and absolutely no more than one – leaf or piece of paper. Are there two pieces of paper masking the jack? Then they cannot be picked up, and the jack is dead.

The students repeatedly asked the trainers pointed questions in order to be certain that nothing was being lost in translation and that the students were correctly understanding what the trainers were saying to them.

It’s hard to know what to make of the bizarre assertions of the French trainers. The best explanation that I can muster is that the trainers simply misunderstood the pictures – and the point being made – in their own Umpires Handbook.


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