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
The 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.
The bottom line is:
(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, regardless of whether or not strings are used to mark boundaries.
(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 a friendly game (and aren’t concerned about strictly following FIPJP rules), and you’re playing 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.