When the jack is knocked out of sight

Petanque jack (hidden by tree)

Petanque jack (hidden by tree)

[updated 2018-12-17]
In games played on an open terrain, sometimes the jack is hit and knocked behind a tree or rock so that it can’t be seen from the circle. When that happens, Article 9 of the FIPJP rules is relevant. It says that the displaced jack is dead if it is not visible from the circle. This seems like a simple rule, but there can be problems when trying to apply it.

Who decides whether or not the jack is visible from the circle?
Article 7 of the FIPJP rules says that the jack must be visible to a player whose feet are placed at the extreme limits of the interior of the circle and whose body is absolutely upright. In case of a disagreement about this matter, the umpire decides if the jack is visible.

Suppose Alan is in the circle, ready to throw. But he can’t see the jack, which has been knocked behind a large rock on the terrain. So the jack is dead. What could be simpler?

Suppose, however, that Bill steps into the circle, to verify that the jack really cannot be seen from the circle. Bill says that he can see the jack easily. Is the jack dead?

The FIPJP rules, which are designed for use in umpired competitions, say that Alan and Bill should call in an umpire to decide. But this is a friendly, informal game; there is no umpire. Who decides? The FIPJP rules have no answer to this question.

Suppose, however, that an umpire is available. He is called in and says that he can see the jack, so the jack is not dead. But that leaves Alan with a problem, because he still cannot see the jack. Oh, did I mention that Alan is playing from a wheelchair? His head is much lower than the umpire’s head, which is why the umpire could see the jack, but Alan could not. Shouldn’t the umpire take this fact into account when deciding whether or not the jack is visible? Mike Pegg’s answer is NO. “[This rule] may put the disabled player at a disadvantage but when entering the event they would know what the rules are.”[1]

The rules of Petanque Libre (PL) are designed for use in non-umpired games, and PL gives a different answer. Under PL, “If the jack is moved, both teams are responsible for agreeing that the jack in its new location is visible from the circle. If a team has a player who has unplayed boules and that player cannot see the jack while standing in the circle, the team will not agree that the jack is visible; otherwise the team will agree that the jack is visible.” So in this case, when playing by the rules of Petanque Libre, when the jack was hit and knocked behind the stone, Alan’s team would challenge the visibility of the jack. Since one of the team’s members (Alan) could not see the jack from the circle, his team would not agree that the jack is visible and the jack would be declared dead.

What happens when the jack is knocked out of sight by the last boule?
Suppose the jack is knocked behind a tree by the last boule to be played. Nobody is going to throw another boule. So it seems like it shouldn’t matter whether or not the jack is visible from the circle. Is the jack dead?

The answer that an FIPJP umpire will give is— “Article 9 says that if the jack is shot out of sight, it is dead. It doesn’t say that the jack is dead unless there are no more boules left to be played. So YES, the jack is dead.” The problem with this answer is that there is no player in the circle to decide whether or not he can see the jack, and in an informal game there is no umpire to make the decision.

The Petanque Libre position on this question is that the visibility rule exists to insure that no player must throw toward a jack that he cannot see. But after all boules have been thrown, questions about the visibility of the jack are moot. Therefore— “After all boules have been thrown, neither team may challenge the visibility of the jack.”

[1] See Mike’s answer to the question posed by Brian Harris on “Ask the Umpire”, 2017-04-26 www.facebook.com/groups/128791213885003/permalink/1212752685488845/


Consulting with the team coach

Periodically, questions appear on petanque forums about how, and whether, a team can consult with its coach during a game.

Before we get too deep into this topic, let’s immediately settle two basic points.

First, players ARE allowed to confer with their coach during a game, and coaches ARE allowed to offer advice to their players. HOWEVER, there are appropriate procedures for doing this, which we’ll discuss in a minute.

Second, in competitions on marked terrains the only people allowed on the terrain during a game are the players and the umpires. Coaches, like other spectators, are not allowed on the game terrain. This rule is often simply assumed, although sometimes it is explicitly written into tournament rules. Sometimes the coach is allowed to sit inside the crowd-control barriers. More frequently, coaches, managers, and alternate team members have a special area reserved for them in the spectators area.

In this tournament, the competition organizers have allowed coaches to sit inside the steel crowd-control barriers, as long as they stay outside of the wooden surround and don’t come onto the terrain proper.

The FIPJP rules have nothing specific to say about coach-player consultation. The behavior of coaches, therefore, is governed by the same rules that govern spectator behavior in general. Similarly, the behavior of players toward their coach is governed by the rules that govern player behavior in general.

Article 16 – Behavior of players and spectators during a game
During the regulation time given to a player to throw his boule the spectators and players must observe total silence. The opponents must not walk, nor gesticulate, nor do anything that could disturb the player.

This means that while a player is throwing, coaches, spectators, and the other players must stay motionless and quiet. At other times they should maintain a reasonable calm and quiet, and not do anything by word or action to distract the opposing players or to interfere with the smooth progress of the game.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this means that while one player is throwing, the other players cannot shout across the terrain to ask their coach for advice, or walk across the terrain to consult with him. And of course the obverse is also true — a coach cannot shout instructions or advice at his players. Players and coaches should NEVER attempt to communicate by gesturing wildly in the other’s direction. If one or more of the players wish to communicate with their coach, they should wait until it is their team’s turn to throw, then walk over to where the coach is sitting and talk quietly.

While they are conversing, player and coach should remember the one-minute rule — the player is allowed only one minute to throw his boule. That means that players and coaches must keep their consultations short and to the point. Typically, the first violation of the one-minute rule will earn a player a yellow card and a warning from the umpire, but not a penalty. No big deal. But players need to be careful about gross or repeated violations of the one-minute rule — that can earn them more serious penalties.

Some players are confused about whether or not they are allowed to confer with their coach, because they remember Article 31, which says that—

No player may absent himself from a game or leave the game terrains without the permission of the Umpire.

Players sometimes misunderstand this rule as saying that, during a game, players can’t step outside the boundaries of the terrain in order to walk over and talk to their coach.

That is a mistake — that’s not what Article 31 is about. Players are of course allowed to step outside the boundaries of the terrain. In fact, when a player isn’t throwing, standing outside of the terrain boundary is the best place to be. If a boule or jack unexpectedly flies across the terrain and hits a player, there will be no problem — the boule or jack will have gone out-of-bounds before being stopped.

Article 31 has nothing to do with stepping outside of a terrain to consult with your coach. As international umpire Mike Pegg says

The rule about leaving the terrain/lane is not designed to prevent a player stepping out of the lane to talk to his coach who is standing or sitting at the end of the lane. The rule is is designed to deal with players that move way from the lane or the playing area to get a coffee, have a smoke, go to the toilet, etc.

The bottom line is that players definitely ARE allowed to walk over to the edge of the playing area and confer with their coach. They just need to behave appropriately when they do it.

The “landing strip” for a thrown jack

See other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.

updated 2021-05-25
The rules governing the thrown jack were dramatically changed in the 2020 revision of the FIPJP rules. Under the current (2020) rules, the landing strip covers the entire lane except for two small areas, 50cm deep, at each end of the lane. For more about the new rules, see THIS.
The information in this post is now obsolete. The post has been retained for any historical interest that it might have.

Article 7 specifies a number of distance-related constraints on a thrown jack. One of them is that “the jack must be a minimum of 1 meter from … the nearest boundary of an out-of-bounds area.”   This can create a problem on narrow lanes.

We are playing on a marked terrain that is 3 meters wide. Does the one-meter rule in Article 7 mean that the area where we can legally throw the jack— the “landing strip” as it were— is only one meter wide running down the middle of the terrain?

The answer to the question is “Yes, but it really depends on whether or not the terrain’s side lines are also dead-ball lines.”

The landing strip

Suppose that we have a playing area that contains only one marked terrain (one lane, piste, cadre), so that the boundary lines of all four sides are dead-ball lines. The lane is 4m wide and 15m long. If we measure one meter in from each of the four boundaries, then we have a landing strip in the middle of the lane that is 2m wide and 13m long. If the lane is only 3m wide, the landing strip is only one meter wide.

Things get more interesting when we have a big playing area that we divide into a grid of lanes using strings. The strings around the exterior of the grid, and the strings across the short ends of the lanes, are dead-ball lines. The other strings (the ones that cut up the playing area up into separate lanes) are “guide lines”— they indicate the boundaries of the lanes, but they aren’t dead-ball lines.


Look at lane A. On its left side is an exterior dead-ball line; on its right side is a neighboring lane (B). So the landing strip for lane A is lop-sided. On one side, the landing strip stays one meter from the exterior dead-ball line, but on the other side it goes right up to the guide line with lane B. If the lanes are 4m wide, the landing strip for lane A is 3m wide, but the landing strip for lane B extends the full width of the lane and is 4m wide.

When the landing strip is too narrow

There are other situations where the landing strip is only one meter wide. Under FIPJP rules, region competitions may be played on a lane that is only 3m wide. And in time-limited games, all four boundaries of a lane are considered to be dead-ball lines. This means that in a time-limited game on a lane 3m wide— a common situation— the landing strip for each lane is only one meter wide.

This can happen even in games without time limits, if the lanes are arranged in a long strip. This kind of arrangement is quite common for competitions that are played on long, narrow areas like the paths in a public park or along a waterfront.

In order to deal with the problems of a too-narrow landing strip, many competitions reduce the jack’s required minimum distance to half a meter from a side dead-ball line. So even on a lane that is only 3m wide, the landing strip will still be at least 2m wide.

In 2016, the FIPJP adopted this practice for time-limited games— now Article 7 says— The jack must be a minimum of 1 meter from any obstacle and from the nearest edge of an out-of-bounds area. This distance is reduced to 50cm in time-limited games, except for lines at the foot of lanes.