When a player must leave during a game

It happens. In the middle of a game, a player must leave. Perhaps there is sudden news of a family emergency. Perhaps he is attacked by a sudden bout of illness. Perhaps he is attacked by a BEAR!  In any event, he has to leave.

When this happens, his teammates are left with the question “How do we carry on with the game?” Sometimes the question is “Bob had to leave. Can Jim play his boules?”

How does the game proceed?

The answer is a definite “It depends.”

If the context is a formal, organized competition, the first option is to replace the player who is leaving with another player. To do this, the affected team would call the umpire, notify him, and get his permission/approval for the change. (In the FIPJP world championships, the triples teams are required to have four members. The fourth member is a backup for just such situations.)

In a formal competition, if no replacement player can be found, the remaining players can NOT play the boules of the departed player. They must continue by themselves, with each player playing only his own boules.

Still… umpires have a lot of discretion in making decisions that allow competitions to continue smoothly. Each situation is unique, and a particular umpire in a particular set of circumstances might see other options.

If the context is a friendly game, the players can be more relaxed about following the letter of the law. The affected team would try to find a replacement player. Failing that, the remaining teammates could increase the number of boules they play.

Just as an umpire has a lot of discretion in making decisions in a formal competition, the players in a friendly game are free to continue in any way that is acceptable to both teams. The players might, for instance, simply stop the game, re-form the teams, and start again.

Where you run into problems is in a friendly but competitive game (no umpire) where one team is happy to proceed in a relaxed way, while the other team feels that “the rules are the rules”. In such a case, there can be disagreement about how to proceed.

At this point we have a human relationship problem, not a question about the rules of petanque. This is tricky territory. But if you can remember that this is not about the rules of petanque, but about getting along with people who you want to keep as friends for a long time, you’ll be OK. You’ll figure out something.

Can I wear sandals or open-toe shoes while playing?

[Revised 2018-07-08]
Since the 2016 revision of the FIPJP rules, Article 39 requires players to wear fully enclosed shoes.

Proper attire is required of players for whom it is forbidden to play without a top [literally: with nude torso] and who must especially, for safety reasons, wear footwear that is completely closed, protecting the toes and heels.

Since most national federations adopt the FIPJP rules without change, this rule is also part of the rules of national federations.

Even before this change to the FIPJP rules, most national federations had (and continue to have) a “Player Code of Behavior” in addition to the official rules of the game. The Code of Behavior may differ from nation to nation, but typically prohibits smoking, drinking, cursing on the terrain, using a cell phone during a game, playing shirtless (torse nu), pets on the terrain, glass containers, e-cigarettes, and high heels. In its Code of Behavior, the Australian petanque federation has required enclosed footwear since at least 2006. The dress code of the French federation has required enclosed footwear since at least 2011.

The requirement for closed footwear has nothing to do with the danger of dropping a boule on your foot— an enclosed shoe doesn’t provide much more protection against a dropped boule than does an open-toe sandal. What is at issue is the tripping hazard posed by strings used to mark lane boundaries. The boundaries of lanes are traditionally marked with strings strung tightly between nails driven into the ground. When the strings have been installed properly they lie very close to the ground and don’t pose any significant tripping hazard for players wearing shoes. But experience has shown that sandals— or shoes of any kind with an open toe or open heel— significantly increase the risk of catching the shoe on the strings and the risk of a serious fall. This is true even when the strings have been installed properly.

The same is true when players play with bare feet— there is a significant risk of catching a string between the toes, tripping, and falling. For that reason, the rules do not permit players to play with bare feet. And for that reason also, you can expect umpires to prohibit fully-enclosed shoes with separate toes, like these.

Questions about the rule

petanque_shoes_half-sandalspetanque_shoes_half-sandalsThe rule requiring enclosed footwear has been in place in many national federations for a decade or more, but it first appeared in the FIPJP rules in 2016. Since then, it has attracted the attention of players, who have raised a lot of questions about the rule. Players like to play in sandals, and the most frequently asked question is “Are shoes like these allowed?”, submitted along with a photo of shoes that are closed around the toes and heels, but open elsewhere.

When international umpire Mike Pegg is asked such a question, his answer is NO. Mike follows the letter of the law. His decision is: “The rules say completely closed. These shoes are not completely closed; therefore they are not allowed.” And that is certainly reasonable. For one thing, it avoids the question: “How closed is closed enough?” Note, however, that in a particular competition, a different umpire might decide differently. (During a competition the FIPJP rules mean what the umpire says they mean, and umpires don’t always agree.)

Another question that players ask is: “In a game where the boundaries are not marked by strings (perhaps the boundaries are marked by chalk or paint, or the game is being played on an open terrain without any boundaries) is it permitted to wear sandals or open-toe or open-heel shoes?” Again, if one follows the letter of the law the answer is NO. But again: umpires in different competitions may rule differently on this question.


(1) In a formal, organized competition where play is strictly by the FIPJP rules, you can expect the umpires to rule that players MUST wear COMPLETELY closed footwear, period.

(2) Simply as a matter of common-sense safety, if you are playing on a terrain marked with strings, you should never play barefoot or wearing open-toe or open-heel shoes or sandals.

(3) If you’re playing an informal, friendly game on a terrain without strings, feel free to relax in those sandals. 🙂

If you have a medical condition that prevents you from wearing completely enclosed footwear, you may be permitted to participate in a formal, organized competition. It is up to the competition organizer to make the decision. Get a letter from you doctor, and contact the competition organizer in advance, to get advance permission to participate.

Boules thrown out of turn

extensively revised 2022-07-13
A boule played out of turn is a boule that was played when a team mistakenly believed that it was their turn to play. Consider the following situation.

Team A has the point. Bob, on Team B, plays a boule (B1). B1 gains the point, but Bob doesn’t realize that. Without leaving the circle, Bob judges that he has not gained the point, so throws a second boule (B2). Again, judging incorrectly that he has not gained the point, Bob throws his third boule (B3). Both teams then walk to the head to assess the situation. What they discover is that Bob had gained the point with B1. That means that B2 and B3 were thrown “out of turn”.

At this point, the question is of course— What do we do now? A variety of answers have been proposed.

1. The boule was thrown “contrary to the rules”

There is no FIPJP rule that specifically covers boules thrown out-of-turn. What players and umpires usually come up with is that the boules were thrown “contrary to the rules”. They reason thus—

  1. Article 16 says that “it is the team that does not hold the point that plays.”
  2. Since Bob WAS holding the point when he played boules B2 and B3, he broke the rule in Article 16.
  3. Since Bob broke a rule when he played boules B2 and B3, B2 and B3 must have been “played contrary to the rules”.
  4. Article 24 contains a rule about what to do when a boule is played contrary to the rules. Therefore, the rule in Article 24 is what we should use.

Article 24 says that when we discover that a boule has been played contrary to the rules, we should apply an “advantage rule”.

  1. The offended team may choose to leave everything where it is, and carry on with the game. Or—
  2. The offended team may choose to declare each boule that was thrown out-of-turn to be dead, and to put every ball that was illegally moved back in its original location, if its original location was marked.

Note that the offended team— not the umpire— decides what to do with a boule thrown out-of-turn. Note also that a boule thrown out-of-turn is not automatically dead— the offended team can choose to declare it dead, but they can also choose to leave it where it is.

The bottom line for Bob is that Team A is probably going to choose the second option, and declare B2 and B3 to be dead.

The rule is straight-forward, but it can be emotionally unsatisfying, especially when several boules are involved. When Team B throws two or three boules out-of-turn, players begin to wonder— Where was Team A when Team B was throwing all of these illegal boules? Surely Team A must have realized that Team B had the point! Shouldn’t they have informed Team B? Isn’t Team A at least partly at fault, for knowing that Team B had the point, but sitting around and watching Team A throw all of these illegal boules and saying nothing?

These suspicions are almost always groundless. In cases like this, as often as not the players on Team A said nothing because they didn’t have enough time to carefully assess the situation, or they really did not realize (or were not sure about) who had the point. Still, we often have a gut-level feeling that Team A must somehow share the guilt, and it is unfair or harsh to punish Team B so severely. This has prompted proposals for other ways of dealing with multiple boules thrown out-of-turn.

2. The boule was NOT thrown “contrary to the rules”

In 2008 Petanque New Zealand (PNZ) published rules interpretations saying that a boule thrown out of turn should not be considered to have been thrown contrary to the rules. In 2012 John Degueldre, Director of Umpiring for Petanque New Zealand, followed up by issuing the following ruling.

Boules played out of turn are not considered as an infringement to the rules [i.e. as "boules thrown contrary to the rules"] but indeed as a mistake. Players making such a mistake penalise themselves by reducing or losing the boule advantage. In conclusion, players do not incur any penalty, and boule(s) are valid and stay in place. But it is still the player or team not holding the point that must play the next boule.

The practical effect of this interpretation is that, after it is discovered that one or more boules have been thrown out-of-turn, everything is left where it is, and the game carries on.

It’s true that playing a boule out-of-turn is usually a mistake— often a newbie mistake, sometimes a result of lazy playing— and so shouldn’t be treated too harshly. But a blanket no-fault policy may be excessively tolerant. Even a mistakenly-thrown boule can have consequences. If you point a boule right in front of the jack, or right in front of a boule that I was planning to shoot, you’ve changed the situation on the ground in your favor. Saying “Oops, my mistake,” doesn’t change the fact that your boule has just created a real problem for me. My sense of fairness tells me that your throw really should be undone.

I think that PNZ came to the same conclusion. As of the 2021 version of its rules, it now interprets Article 24 in the standard FIPJP way (position #1).

3. Only the LAST boule was thrown “contrary to the rules”

The NJBB (the Dutch national petanque federation) agrees that a boule thrown out-of-turn has been thrown contrary to the rules, but its rules interpretation guidelines specify an unusual way of applying Article 24.

Every team has a duty to investigate and must ensure that a player who is about to play belongs to the team team whose turn it really is to play. … If the opposing team has had the opportunity to object and has not removed from play the boule that was thrown contrary to the rules, one may assume that they have agreed to leave the boule(s) in question. Thus, the rule does not automatically apply retroactively if the error is discovered at a later time.

The NJBB position is that when Team A didn’t object to Bob throwing B2, Team A must have implicitly (and without telling anyone) invoked Article 24’s advantage rule, and must (without telling anyone) have chosen the first option— to leave everything untouched. After it is discovered that B3 was thrown out-of-turn, then Team A may explicitly invoke Article 24’s advantage rule and choose to disqualify B3. But it can do nothing about B2 because it has already implicitly agreed not to disqualify B2.

In effect, the NJBB rule is that when it is discovered that Team B has thrown multiple boules out-of-turn, Team A can disqualify only the last one.

This is obviously an attempt to find a minimally punitive way to handle multiple boules thrown out-of-turn. And I think that it would be acceptable for the NJBB simply and arbitrarily to rule that when one team throws multiple boules out-of-turn, the other team can disqualify only the last one. (Most of the rules of most games are completely arbitrary.) But the NJBB’s feeble attempt to rationalize its ruling is absurd. Not realizing that a boule has been thrown out-of-turn is not the same thing as (a) realizing that a boule has been thrown out-of-turn, then (b) making a conscious choice to choose one, rather than the other, of the two options offered by Article 24’s advantage rule, and then (c) concealing that recognition and that decision from the opposing team.

The bottom line

The bottom line, I think, is that while the standard FIPJP position (position #1) can sometimes leave us emotionally dissatisfied, there is no other position that is compatible with the current FIPJP rules and obviously better.

The lesson for all of us is therefore—

You can’t count on the opposing team always to point out that you have, or might have gained the point. The responsibility for claiming the point is yours, and you can’t expect your opponents to do your job for you.

Before you play a boule, always make sure that you know where the point lies, and that it really is your team’s turn to play. Or be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Why boules thrown out-of-turn cause so much confusion

It is difficult to discuss boules thrown out-of-turn, because players commonly believe (incorrectly) that a boule thrown out-of-turn is automatically dead, or that an umpire will automatically rule the boule to be dead. They believe this because of the extremely confusing way that Article 24 is written. First Article 24 says “any boule thrown contrary to the rules is dead.” Then it says “Oh wait, I take it back. The boule isn’t dead; the offended team gets to apply an advantage rule.” The FIPJP should be ashamed of itself for the way that Article 24 is written.

Dealing with a forgotten boule

Players and umpires sometimes invoke the concept of a boule thrown out-of-turn when dealing with a forgotten boule. That’s a mistake. See our post on Dealing with a forgotten boule.

Extensive revision of this post

This post was extensively revised on July 13, 2022 in response to comments on the first version by Michael, Bruce Whitehill, and Niek. Michael and Bruce pointed out the difficulties in the 2012 PNZ position, and especially challenged the statement (now removed) that “A boule thrown out-of-turn hurts the team that threw it and does no harm to the opposing team.” Niek called my attention to the NJBB’s unusual interpretation of Article 24. My thanks go out to all of them for their help in making this post better.