The FIPJP rules use many terms without defining them. The worst offender in this regard is the word “obstacle”. “What is an obstacle?” is probably the most-frequently-asked question about the rules. So… What is an obstacle?
In the FIPJP rules, “obstacle” is not a technical term. It is an ordinary word that means, roughly, “something that interferes with the normal course of some activity or process.” The relevant activity or process must be inferred from the context. The context differs from rule to rule.
- In Article 10, an “obstacle” is any natural feature of the terrain that might make pointing difficult. Article 10 says that even though a player might want to pick up or push down an “obstacle” like a stone or a hump in the ground, or tamp down some soft earth, he is not allowed to do so.
- In Article 19, an “obstacle” is anything that causes a boule to bounce back in-bounds after it has gone out-of-bounds.
- In Article 25, an “obstacle” is something on the terrain (a big rock, a tree root) that gets in the way of measurement.
The two important uses of the term “obstacle” are…
Both Article 6 (on placing the circle) and Article 7 (on throwing the jack) say that the throwing circle must be at least one meter from any “obstacle” and at least 2 meters from another throwing circle in use. The purpose of these rules is to move the circle away from throwing obstacles— features of the playing area that might interfere with a player’s normal throwing form. The most common kind of throwing obstacle are objects that might interfere with a player’s backswing. Trees, telephone poles, trash receptacles, walls, and crowd-control barriers count as throwing obstacles if they are too close to the circle. The category of “throwing obstacles” also includes features of the terrain that might interfere with a player’s footing. A patch of ground that is too irregular for a player to stand with a solid footing, a patch of slippery mud, a puddle of rainwater— all of these count as throwing obstacles.
Article 7 (on throwing the jack) also says that the thrown jack must be a minimum of 1 meter from any “obstacle” and from any dead-ball line. This rule is designed to insure that there is at least one meter of clear space around the thrown jack, so that it is possible for a player to point a boule anywhere within a meter of the jack. Here, pointing obstacles are things such as walls or buildings on the terrain that infringe on the clear space around the thrown jack. The dead-ball line is in effect a pointing obstacle, which is why Article 7 says that the thrown jack must be at least a meter from any dead-ball line.
There are a number of questions about “obstacles” that are frequently asked.
Is a wooden surround a throwing obstacle? It might interfere with the backswing of a squat pointer.
Mike Pegg has ruled that a wooden surround is NOT a throwing obstacle for a squat pointer, because the player can always stand (rather than squat) when pointing. I think, however, that (depending on the circumstances) another umpire might reasonably rule that players should be able safely to use their normal throwing form, whatever that form might be, and that a wooden surround can be considered a throwing obstacle if a squat pointer expresses concerns at the time that the circle is being placed. The primary goal here is to allow players to throw normally, and to do so without fear of injury.
Are tree trunks considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
Are tree roots considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
Generally speaking: NO. They are considered to be features of the terrain, like rocks.
Article 19 says that a boule is dead if it goes out-of-bounds, hits an “obstacle”, and then comes back on to the terrain. Are things ABOVE the ground “obstacles”? If a thrown (or hit) boule or jack hits something ABOVE the terrain, is it dead?
The answer is NO, it is not dead. The relevant question here has nothing to do with what is considered to be an obstacle— it is: “Are objects above the terrain out-of-bounds?” And the answer to that question is NO. Think of the dead-ball lines as imaginary invisible walls that the visible dead-ball lines project vertically into the sky. Any object that is directly above the terrain— any object that is inside the invisible dead-ball walls— is in-bounds. That means that if a boule or a jack hits an overhanging tree branch, a low-hanging light fixture, or a boulodrome ceiling, and drops down onto the terrain without going through one of those invisible walls, it is still alive. (Local or tournament rules may over-ride this general rule of course.) Here is an outdoor boulodrome in Seaside, Florida. Note the low-hanging light fixtures. Most of the light fixtures are in-bounds and are therefore normal features of the terrain, just as rocks on the terrain are normal features of the terrain.