“Can I wear sandals while playing?”
- In a friendly game on a terrain without strings: YES.
- Otherwise: NO.
On the international level, the FIPJP rules require “proper dress” (une tenue correcte) for all players, but specific dress restrictions are left to national federations and competition organizers.
On the national level, most national federations have a “Player Code of Behavior” in addition to the official rules of petanque. The Code of Behavior may differ from nation to nation, but typically prohibits smoking, drinking, cursing on the terrain, playing shirtless (torse nu), pets on the terrain, glass containers, mobile phones, 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.
On the competition level, competition organizers often require enclosed footwear if that requirement is not specified in national federation regulations. Both the FPUSA and the English Petanque Association (EPA) require enclosed footwear for all of their competitions.
The requirement for closed footwear has nothing to do with the danger of dropping a boule on your foot— ordinary shoes don’t provide much more protection than open-toe sandals. It is about tripping.
The boundaries of marked terrains are traditionally marked with strings strung tightly between nails driven into the ground. When installed properly, the strings lie very close to the ground and pose a negligible tripping hazard for anyone wearing enclosed footwear. But experience has shown that open-toe shoes significantly increase the risk of tripping on the strings, and of a serious fall. As Mike Pegg notes
In England we do not allow open-toe or backless sandals/shoes because on a terrain with string lines (to make the lane) it is very easy to catch the string between your foot and the shoe and can do a lot of harm.
It is sometimes said that the FPUSA footwear requirement is a condition of the FPUSA’s liability insurance policy. This, however, may be an urban myth. Ernesto Santos (of La Boule New Yorkaise) says
While the FPUSA has rules about not playing with open-toed shoes in FPUSA tournaments (unless you have a doctor’s note) and some have claimed that it is due to liability insurance — nobody has ever actually shown where in the policy it says that. And in fact the previous president (Ed Porto) has said that it is perfectly fine to have local tournaments that allow open toed shoes.
The Bottom Line
In any organized competition, there is almost certainly a (national or competition-level) requirement that players wear enclosed footwear.
When playing on a terrain marked with strings, as a matter of common-sense safety you should NEVER go barefoot or wear open-toe or open-heel shoes or sandals.
If you’re playing a friendly game on a terrain without strings, feel free to relax in those sandals. 🙂