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.