Foot faults – What to do?

[revised 2021-12-23]
In July 2017 (during the final of the Masters de Pétanque at Clermont) an umpire gave Dylan Rocher a yellow card for a foot fault, but he didn’t disqualify Dylan’s thrown boule. This prompted the following question on Ask the Umpire (March 2, 2018) —

A player lifted a foot while throwing. His thrown boule successfully shot away an opponent’s boule. The umpire gave the player a warning (yellow card) but let the situation on the ground remain unchanged.
Did the umpire rule correctly?

  • International umpire Mike Pegg’s answer was NO. Mike’s opinion was that “The umpire should have disqualified the boule and put back the original boule because the player who lifted his foot should not be given this unfair advantage.”
  • FPUSA umpire Gary Jones’s answer was YES. “Since Article 6 clearly states that Article 35 should be applied for the infraction of lifting one’s foot while throwing, and Article 24 clearly states that it is applicable only where the rules do not provide for specific and graduated penalties as outlined in Article 35, I would rule exactly as the presiding umpire did.”

Gary mentions Article 24, so we should be clear about what that article says.

Article 24 – Boules thrown contrary to the rules
Except for cases in which these regulations specify the application of specific and graduated penalties in article 35, any boule thrown contrary to the rules is dead, and anything that it displaced in its travel is put back in place, if those objects had been marked. However, the opponent has the right to apply the advantage rule and declare it to be valid. In this case, the boule pointed or shot, is valid and anything it has displaced remains in its place.

Article 6 says that a penalty will be imposed for a foot fault, so letting the offended team apply the “advantage rule” mentioned in Article 24 clearly is not an option. (See our post on a boule thrown contrary to the rules.) But Mike is not saying that he would apply the advantage rule in Article 24. Mike is saying that he, as umpire, would unilaterally declare the thrown boule to be dead and restore the shot boule to its original location. He would do so on the grounds that the player gained an “unfair advantage” through his foot fault.

This is a very questionable position. For one thing, in this hypothetical case Mike has no way of knowing whether the offending player’s foot fault actually gave him any advantage. More important, however, is the fact that Mike is simply inventing rules— pulling them out of thin air, or as we’d say in the USA, pulling them out of his ass. There is nothing in the FIPJP rules that says anything about unfair advantages. The notion of an “unfair advantage” is something that umpires have invented to allow themselves to over-rule the written rules in cases where they think the written rules would be unfair if applied literally.

The bottom line— not to put too fine a point on it— is that we are all at the mercies of the whims of the umpire. In my opinion, the umpire ruled correctly— Mike is wrong and Gary is right. But during a game, an umpire can rule in absolutely any way that he wishes, and he can invent whatever justification he wishes for his ruling. And regardless of whether or not his ruling and his reasons are correct— regardless of what we think— his ruling is sans appel.

Note that the clause Except for cases in which these regulations specify the application of specific and graduated penalties in article 35, was inserted into Article 24 in 2016, so it is a relatively new feature of the rules. Mazlan Ahmad has suggested that it might be a good idea to revoke the new clause. “Without that clause, enforcement of Article 24 for all foot-fault infractions becomes mandatory— just like the days before the 2016 rules revision.” So far, the FIPJP international umpires haven’t agreed with him— the FIPJP rules were revised again in December 2020 and the new clause was not removed.

Note that Dylan’s right foot is lifed completely off of the ground and outside the circle. The thrown boule is still too high in the air to be seen in this picture. See THIS or THIS.