Putting things back

One of the problems with the FIPJP rules document is that it mixes together in one document material that properly belongs in three different documents— rules of the game, administrative procedures, and guidelines for umpires. In particular, mixing guidelines for umpires with rules of the game blurs the difference between the two. The rules about “putting things back” are a good illustration of this problem.

There are a variety of ways in which a ball (boule or jack) can be moved illegally during a game. When a ball is illegally moved, players then confront the question of whether they should leave it where it is, or put it back in its original location.


Here is what the FIPJP rules say.

Article 12 – Jack masked or displaced … To avoid all disagreement, the players must mark the position of the jack. No claim will be accepted [by an umpire] regarding unmarked boules or an unmarked jack.

Article 22 – Displaced boules … To avoid all disagreement, the players must mark the boules. No claim will be admissible [by an umpire] for an unmarked boule, and the umpire will make his decision based only on the locations of the boules on the terrain.

Basically, this boils down to a set of guidelines for umpires and a separate set of guidelines (advice, really) for players.

Guidelines for Umpires
When making a decision concerning an illegally-moved ball (boule or jack) an umpire will ignore any claim by players about the original location of the ball if that original location is not marked, and will make his decision based only on the current locations of the balls on the terrain.

Guidelines for Players
An umpire will ignore any claim that you might make about the original location of a ball if that original location is not marked. Therefore, the only way that you can be sure that an umpire will return an illegally-moved ball to its original location is (a) always to mark the current location of every ball on the terrain, and (b) always to create new marks and erase old marks whenever any of the balls is moved.

These guidelines generate a lot of discussion on online petanque forums. What I want to emphasize in this post is that players are not bound by the guidelines for umpires. If you are a player in a social game where there is no umpire, the guidelines for umpires are irrelevant. You and your fellow players are free to restore an illegally-moved ball (say, a jack accidentally moved during measurement) to its original location and carry on with your game. (Here, “its original location” means in effect “a location agreeable to both teams”. This is an important feature of the rules of Petanque Libre, which are specifically designed for games where there is no umpire.)

Even if you are playing in an umpired game you are NOT required to call in an umpire if a ball is moved illegally. Without calling in an umpire, the two teams are free to restore an illegally-moved ball to its original location and carry on with their game.

Read other posts in the Putting Things Back category

Deliberately picking up one of your own boules

In the 2016 revision of the FIPJP rules, a paragraph was added to the end of Article 27.

Article 27 – Picked-up boules
It is forbidden for players to pick up played boules before the end of the mene.
At the end of a mene, any boule picked up before the agreement of points is dead. No claim is admissible on this subject.
▶If a player picks up his boules from the game terrain while his partners have boules remaining, they will not be allowed to play them.◀

Paragraph 3 was a good idea. Before it was added, if a player deliberately picked up one of his/her own played boules, the boule was dead and that was that. The player achieved his goal (to remove the boule) and there were no negative consequences for the player.

But… why would a player ever want deliberately to remove one of his own boules?

Suppose that you are playing on team B when one of the following situations arises.

  1. Team A has thrown all of their boules, while your team still has four boules to play. The front is almost completely open, just waiting for you to point those four boules and score four points. But there is a problem. One of your own boules, B1, is sitting exactly on the ideal donnée for your pointing throws. When it was first thrown it was a great blocking boule, but now it is blocking you rather than the opponents. You wish it was out of there.
  2. Your team has one point one the ground. If you could shoot away opposing boule A1, your team could score four points. But boule B1, one of your own boules, is right behind A1, kissing it. You’re familiar with Newton’s cradle and you know the physics of this situation. If you shoot A1, B1 will go flying and A1 will hardly move. You wish boule B1 wasn’t there, so you could shoot A1.


In these situations it would be to your advantage to pick up and remove your own boule. It would be worth it even if the umpire gave you a warning. In a friendly game there’d be no umpire; you wouldn’t even get a warning. Soon, perhaps, the idea would spread that removing one of your own boules was a recognized and acceptable part of the game.

The new paragraph in Article 27 fixes that problem. The new rule eliminates any possible benefit from deliberately picking up one of your own boules.

The new rule also creates a problem for umpires. Suppose that Ben, the captain of Team B, (accidentally?) kicks boule B1. Now the umpire must decide whether Ben’s action was or was not deliberate. If it was an accident, then boule B1 stays where Ben kicked it. But if Ben deliberately kicked B1 (in effect, removing it from the terrain), then Team B’s remaining unplayed boules are dead. But the umpire is not a mind reader. How can he know whether Ben’s action was deliberate or accidental?

Or should the umpire strictly follow the letter of the law and rule that kicking a boule is not the same thing as picking it up, so the new rule does not apply. If he does, then we’re back where we started. Ben can’t pick up his boule with impunity, but he can “accidentally” kick it away.

This post is an excerpt from the next edition of A Guide to the Rules of Petanque, now in preparation.

When does a mene begin and end?

[Revised: 2021-01-10]

Note that the 2020 rules changed all this.  The FIPJP  rules now use the Time-Limited Games model.  I have not changed this post, which may still have some historical interest, even though it does not describe the current state of the rules.

In petanque, there are actually two different models of when menes (“ends”, “rounds”) begin and end. The models are used for different purposes.

In the FIPJP Rules model there are two kinds of events. One kind marks the start of a mene, and the other kind marks the end of a mene. For many years the FIPJP rule was that a mene started with the successful throw of the jack. The rules changed in 2016 and now a mene starts with the throw of the jack, regardless of the validity of the throw. A mene ends with the agreement of points. Between the agreement of points that marks the end of one mene, and the throw of the jack that marks the start of the next mene, there is a period of time that lies between menes.

In the Time-Limited Games model there is a single event that marks the end of one mene and the start of the next. For many years the Eurocup rules used the agreement of points as the dividing event. That changed a few years ago and the Eurocup rule for time-limited games is now: “A new end is considered to have started as soon as the last boule from the previous end has been played.” The last boule of the mene is considered to have been played when it finishes rolling and comes to a complete stop. The Petanque New Zealand umpire’s guide gives a clear explanation of the rule.

When the time signal is sounded,… if all boules of the end have been played and have come to a stop… that end has finished, (regardless of measuring and deciding points)… [and] you have officially started the new end… This rule applies only in timed games to determine how many ends remain to be played after the time signal is sounded. It is not used for any other purpose.

Under the FIPJP rules, the events that mark the beginning and end of a mene are used for a variety of purposes.

(1) The One-Minute Rule
Article 21 says, basically, that a mene ends, and the one-minute timer starts ticking, at the moment that the teams know which team should play next.

Once the jack is thrown, each player has the maximum duration of one minute to play his boule. This short period of time starts from the moment that the previously played boule or jack stops or, if it is necessary to measure a point, from the moment the latter [the measurement] has been accomplished. … The same requirements apply to the throwing of the jack.

The FIPJP umpires were being lazy and sloppy when they wrote this rule. You can’t lay out rules for what happens between the throws of boules, and then just tack on: “Oh, and the same goes for the jack.” There is a significant difference between what needs to happen between throws of boules and what needs to happen between menes. Between throws of boules, the only thing that players need to do is to agree which team plays next. Between menes, however, they must agree on the points, which may take some time. The rule for throwing the jack should say that the one-minute timer starts ticking at the end of the previous mene, i.e. at the time that the points have been agreed.

(2) A late-arriving player
Article 33 says that when a player arrives late to the competition, he/she must wait until a time between menes to join the game.

(3) Prematurely picked-up boules
Article 27 says, in effect, that a mene ends with the agreement of points.
“It is forbidden for players to pick up played boules before the end of the mene. At the end of a mene, any boule picked up before the agreement of points is dead.”

(4) Waiting for the end of the mene in another game
Article 13 says, “If, during a mene, the jack is displaced onto another game terrain… the players using this jack will wait for the end of the mene that was started by the players on the other game terrain, before finishing their own mene.”



Questions about what a player is or is not permitted to do in order to fill a hole became more complicated with the release of the 2016 version of the rules. In the previous (2010) version of the rules, the last sentence of Article 10 was—

For non-observation of the rules above, the players incur the penalties outlined in Article 34 “Discipline”.

In the new (2016) version of the rules, the last sentence of Article 10 became this. Note that the underlining is mine.

For not complying with this rule, especially in the case of sweeping in front of a boule to be shot, the offending player incurs the penalties specified in Article 35.

What the new rule says, basically, is that starting January 1, 2017, in FIPJP sanctioned competitions, “sweeping” in front of a boule to be shot will be treated as an infraction of the rules and punished in some unspecified way. The problem with this new rule is that— like so many other rules—it uses a technical term without defining it. What is “sweeping”?

Sweeping in front of a boule to be shot

To understand what “sweeping in front of a boule to be shot” means, it helps to know a little bit about the history of Article 10.

Between 1964 and 2008, Article 10 specified that players could fill only the hole that had been made by the boule that had just been played. The rule said, in effect, that players got only one opportunity to fix a hole— immediately after the hole had been created. If they didn’t fix the hole then, the hole had to remain in the terrain, unfilled, for the remainder of the game. The effect of the rule was to condition players to fill every hole immediately after it had been created. If you watch Youtube videos of games played before 2008 you can see it clearly. As soon as a boule is thrown and it is determined which team is to play next, one of the players of that team goes to the hole and smooths it out.

Under these conditions, it makes no difference what your team is planning to do next. Regardless of whether you are going to shoot or point, your team always fixes the hole before throwing its next boule. Usually the team’s pointer is the most compulsive about filling the hole. He develops a habit, almost a compulsion. He walks to the middle of the terrain, studies the ground, and almost as if in a trance he sweeps a foot across the terrain to eradicate a hole. He does this even if the hole is so small that it is almost invisible. Even if no hole is visible, he sweeps the area with a foot, just to be sure that the terrain is level. And the umpires are OK with that. They think— there is almost always some kind of hole, if only a small one, and the difference between a very, very small hole and a non-existant one isn’t worth making a fuss about.

And that’s the way the game was played for more than 40 years.

In 2008, Article 10 changed. Now players could fill one hole, period. It need not have been made by the last boule played. If you are a pointer and you see a hole near your donnée, you can go ahead and fill it without worrying about whether it was created by the last boule played.

With time, players begin to see filling a hole as something you do in preparation for the next throw rather than something you do as an automatic response to the last throw. Younger players become increasingly critical of older players who automatically sweep the terrain when there is no real reason to do so. They are especially critical of players who fill a hole and then go on to shoot. Questions start to be asked. If you’re planning to shoot, and not point, why should you fill a hole? Is it even legal to fill a hole if you are planning to shoot? Was there really a hole there, or were you just smoothing out the terrain? Even if there was a hole, weren’t you sweeping your foot much wider than was needed just to fill the hole?

In 2015, in some French competitions, umpires experiment with enforcing an “if you’re going to shoot you can’t fill a hole” rule. And in 2016 the FIPJP’s international rules acquire a new clause that identifies “sweeping in front of a boule to be shot” as a punishable infraction of the rules.

What is “sweeping”?

One definition of “sweeping” might be— moving around the dirt of the terrain with a sweeping motion of the leg and foot. That captures the physical motion but misses the crucial point— it is illegal to make any change to the terrain that goes beyond the minimum necessary to fill a hole. A better definition of sweeping would be— (a) using a sweeping motion of leg and foot (b) while pretending to be filling a hole (c) in order to change the terrain in an illegal way. Sweeping in this sense is and always has been illegal. But— if sweeping has always been illegal— what was the reason for adding the new clause to the text of the rule?

The FIPJP rules are a mixture of game rules and umpire’s guidelines. The new clause is an umpire’s guideline. It is a signal to FIPJP-certified umpires everywhere that starting on January 1, 2017 they are expected to enforce the rules against sweeping. The days when umpires turned a blind eye to sweeping and compulsive hole filling are over.

Changes in enforcement policy are always difficult, and this change will be especially difficult. Deciding how much sweeping is acceptable for hole-fixing and how much is too much will always be a judgment call. Umpires may be reluctant to crack down on sweeping unless it is flagrantly obvious. On the other hand, if they crack down very hard, before filling a hole players might start asking umpires to come onto the terrain to verify that there is a hole to be filled. They might start asking umpires to fill holes, to forestall any possible charge of sweeping. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few years.