What is an obstacle?

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.

  1. In Article 6 and Article 7, an “obstacle” is any feature of the playing area that might interfere with a player’s ability to throw a boule with his/her normal throwing form.
  2. In Article 7, an “obstacle” is any feature of the playing area that might interfere with a player’s ability to point a boule to anywhere within a meter of the jack.
  3. 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.
  4. In Article 19, an “obstacle” is something that causes a boule to bounce back in-bounds after it has gone out-of-bounds.
  5. In Article 25, an “obstacle” is something on the terrain (a big rock, a tree root) that gets in the way of measurement.

In articles 10, 19, and 25, the word “obstacle” doesn’t really add anything useful to the rules. In those articles, you could replace the word “obstacle” with the word “something” and the rules would be just as clear as they are now.

Of these various kinds of obstacles, by far the most important are the first two on the list— obstacles around the circle (throwing obstacles) and obstacles around the jack (pointing obstacles).

THROWING OBSTACLES
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 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.

Note that a dead-ball line is not a throwing obstacle. It is legal to place the circle right against a dead-ball line— indeed, this is what you should do when the jack is shot across a dead-ball line at the end of a lane. Note also that a jack in a game being played on an adjacent lane is not a throwing obstacle. Technically, under the current FIPJP rules, you aren’t allowed to move the circle in order to keep it from being too close to another game’s jack. Umpires have been known, however, to allow that.

POINTING OBSTACLES
Article 7 (on throwing the jack) also says that the jack (after being thrown or placed) must be at least one meter from any “obstacle” and at least one meter from any dead-ball line. This rule is designed to insure that it is possible for a player to point a boule anywhere within a meter of the jack, in any direction from the jack. Here, a pointing obstacle is something (a tree, a wall, a wooden sideboard) that infringes on the open space around the thrown jack. Note that the dead-ball line is a pointing obstacle; Article 7 emphasizes this when it explicitly says that the thrown jack must be at least a meter from any dead-ball line.

Note, however, that a circle or a jack in a game being played on an adjacent lane is not a pointing obstacle. Technically, under the current FIPJP rules, you can’t declare that a thrown jack is invalid in order to keep it from being too close to another game’s circle or jack.

Here is a diagram that gives an overview-at-a-glance of what does and does not count as a throwing obstacle and a pointing obstacle.

obstacles-throwing_and_pointing


There are a number of frequently-asked questions (FAQs) about obstacles.

Is a wooden surround a throwing obstacle? It might interfere with the backswing of a squat pointer.
In the past, international umpire Mike Pegg has ruled both that a wooden surround is not a throwing obstacle (because a squat pointer can always stand, rather than squat, when pointing), and that it can be (if it is higher than 20/25cm because “at this height or higher it may impede a player”). A reasonable position, I think, is that players always should be able to use their normal throwing form, and to do so in safety. Normally a wooden surround is not considered to be a throwing obstacle, but if a squat pointer expresses concerns when the circle is less than a meter from a wooden surround, the surround should be considered to be a throwing obstacle and the circle should be moved away from it before the jack is thrown. [See Is a wooden sideboard a throwing obstacle?]

Is a wooden surround a pointing obstacle?
Petanque is sometimes played on a terrain without boundary strings, but completely enclosed by wooden sideboards. On such a terrain, the sideboard is a pointing obstacle if it is less than a meter from the jack.

Are trees considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
YES. A tree trunk is both a throwing obstacle and a pointing obstacle.

Are tree roots considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
Generally speaking: NO. They are considered to be features of the terrain, like rocks. There is no clear-cut rule however— in some cases it would be reasonable for the two teams to agree to consider a really large root a pointing obstacle.

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 issue here has nothing to do with what is considered to be an obstacle. The relevant question is not: “Are objects above the terrain obstacles?” 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 invisible walls that the dead-ball lines on the ground project up into the sky. If a ball stays inside those invisible walls— if it stays directly above the terrain— it stays 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.) The photograph (below) shows 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. If a boule hits one of those light fixtures and drops onto the terrain, the light fixture may be damaged but the boule will still be alive.

seaside_terrain_with_overhead_lights
 
Is there really any difference between a throwing obstacle and a pointing obstacle? Aren’t they all just “obstacles”?
Some things (e.g. a wall) can be an obstacle to both throwing and pointing, but that’s not true of all obstacles. In this photograph the jack is located less than a meter from a large tree root. The root is big enough to constitute a pointing obstacle but not big enough to constitute a throwing obstacle. (Boules have been placed on the ground to give a sense of scale.)

In this photograph (below) the jack is located more than a meter from the trunk of a mesquite tree, so the tree trunk isn’t a pointing obstacle and the jack is in a valid location. But at the start of the next mene the low branch, which is only about 4 feet above the jack, would make it impossible for a player to stand upright in a circle placed around the jack. That makes the tree branch a throwing obstacle— at the start of the next mene the circle would have to be moved a meter away from the branch.

Here is a similar situation. The rail fence isn’t a pointing obstacle; it is possible to point to within a meter of the jack in any direction. But at the start of the next mene it will be a throwing obstacle— the circle will have to be moved a meter away from the fence.
petanque_throwing_obstacle_rail_fence

This post was updated 2019-12-22.

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