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 divot— immediately after the divot had been created. If they didn’t fix the divot then, the divot had to remain in the terrain, unfilled, for the remainder of the game. The effect of the rule, not surprisingly, was to condition players to fill every divot 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 divot 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 divot before throwing its next boule. Usually the team’s pointer is the most compulsive about filling the divot. 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 divot. He does this even if the divot is so small that it is almost invisible. Even if no divot 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 probably think that almost always there is some kind of divot. And, really, the difference between a small divot and an imaginary divot is so small that it’s not worth making a fuss about.

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

In 2008, Article 10 changes, and that changes everything. Now players can fill a divot regardless of whether it was made by the last boule played. If you are a pointer and you see a divot near your donnée, you can fill it without worrying about whether it was created by the last boule played.

With time, players begin to regard filling a divot as something you do in preparation for the next throw rather than something you do as an automatic response to the last throw. As the general attitude toward divot-fixing changes, younger players become increasingly critical of players who fill divots when there is no immediate and obvious need to do so. They are especially critical of players who fill a divot 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 divot? Is it even legal to fill a divot if you are planning to shoot? Was there really a divot there, or were you just smoothing out the terrain? Even if there was a divot, weren’t you sweeping your foot much wider than was needed just to fill the hole?

Then things start to happen. In 2015, in some French competitions, umpires experiment with enforcing an “if you’re going to shoot you can’t fill a divot” 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 way of defining “sweeping” might be something like —moving around the dirt of the terrain with a sweeping motion of the leg and foot. But of course that captures only the physical motion. The crucial point is that, while it is legal to fill a divot, it is illegal to make any change to the terrain that goes beyond filling a divot— that goes beyond the minimum necessary to fill a divot.

So one definition of sweeping might be— pretending to fill a divot but moving around more of the dirt on the terrain than is actually needed to fill the divot. Another definition might be— smoothing out an area of the terrain under the pretense of filling a divot. Or we can say— “sweeping” is (a) using a sweeping motion of leg and foot (b) while pretending to be filling a divot (c) in order to change the terrain in an illegal way. Sweeping is therefore always illegal, regardless of where it is done and what you intend to do next. And in the expression “sweeping in front of a boule to be shot”, the only operative word is “sweeping”.

Note that the addition of the clause “especially in the case of sweeping in front of a boule to be shot” makes absolutely no change to the rules. Sweeping—making illegal changes to the terrain under the pretense of filling a divot—has always been illegal. But, you ask, if it changes nothing, why was it added?

We’ve said elsewhere that one of the problems with the FIPJP rules is that they are a mixture of game rules and umpire’s guidelines. The clause is not a game rule; it is an umpire’s guideline. Adding it to the rules doesn’t change the rules of the game. It changes the enforcement policy. Basically, the new clause 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 toward compulsive sweeping and divot filling are over.

At least that’s the theory.

Changes in enforcement policy are always difficult, and this change will be especially difficult. Deciding how much sweeping is acceptable for divot-fixing and how much is too much will always be a judgment call. Umpires will be reluctant to crack down on players based only on their own subjective judgments.

And players… Will they start asking umpires to come onto the terrain to verify that there genuinely is a divot to be filled, and that the player is filling it in an acceptable way? Will players start requesting that umpires fill the divots, to forestall any possible charge of sweeping?

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few years.


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