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. It is an often-overlooked fact that the rules about relocating an illegally-moved jack are different from the rules about relocating an illegally-moved boule.

Wherever the rules discuss the jack, they say that the jack can be put back in its original location (remis à sa place primitive) only on condition that its original location was marked. In contrast, in the one place where the rules discuss boules (Article 22), they say simply that the boule should be put back (remise en place). This is quite understandable because it is only a jack, not a boule, that is likely to have its original location marked. It is a tradition (a fading tradition, now, I think) for players to mark the location of the jack immediately after it has been thrown, in order to avoid The Pushed-Jack Question.


Now, into these relatively clear waters, we will mix a dollop of guidelines for umpires.

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 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 two guidelines: one for umpires and one for players. The guideline for umpires is:

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.

In light of this guideline for umpires, the rules offer the following guideline (or advice, really) 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 avoid the certainty that an umpire will rule NOT to 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 many questions and a lot of discussion on online petanque forums. This is not the place to get into them. The point that I want to make here is that these are guidelines for umpires, not rules of the game. That means that—

(a) If you are an umpire, and are called on to render a decision in a game, these guidelines are binding on you. You MUST follow them. You, as umpire, can NEVER return an unmarked boule to its original location.

(b) If you are a player in a social game where there is no umpire, these guidelines do not apply to you. For you, they are simply irrelevant. You and your fellow players are free to agree on a location, put the boule back (approximately) in its original location, and carry on with your game.

However, in case (b), remember that the rules for relocating a jack are different from the rules for relocating a boule. Even in a social game, if you want strictly to follow the FIPJP rules, a jack can be relocated to its original location only if its original location was marked. (You can, however, relocate an unmarked jack when playing by the rules of Petanque Libre.)

Note that if you are playing in an umpired game and a ball is moved illegally, you are NOT required to call in an umpire to render a decision. (An umpire may of course decide to step in uninvited.) When no umpire is present, your game is in essentially the same situation as if you were playing social petanque. You and your fellow players are NOT bound by the umpire’s guidelines. In the case of an illegally-moved boule, if you and your fellow players can agree on a location, you are free to relocate the illegally moved boule and to carry on with the game.

Read other posts in the Putting Things Back category


2 thoughts on “Putting things back

  1. We are the Xaghra Bocci Club, here in Gozo, Malta. Often we find difficulty to measure the distance between boules (of different teams) and the jack. Sometimes the distance is so close that arguments often arise between players. May you suggest a reliable measurement, preferably digital, that leaves no doubt which boule is closer to the jack. Thank you so much.
    yours Carmel Attard seg. to Xaghra Bocci Club. {email removed to protect against spambots}

    • Hi Carmel,
      (1) see this

      (2) Digital measurements are not recognized as reliable by most umpires, so they should not be used. The umpire’s toolkit should contain (and he should use, in this order) tape measure, folding umpire’s measure, calipers, and feeler gauges.

      (3) Most players and umpires feel compelled to declare that one boule is closer than another— they hate to declare that boules are equidistant. But equidistant boules situations are a fact of the game. If the difference is too close to call, umpires and players should be comfortable with declaring that boules are equidistant. They should also understand the rules about how to proceed when there is a point nul or “undecided point”. See this https://petanquerules.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/undecided-points/

      I hope this helps,
      — Jules

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