We need guidelines as well as rules

If an organization issues a document Rules of the Sport of X, that organization should also issue another document— Guide to the Interpretation of the Rules of X. Here’s why.

In order to be effective, a set of rules governing any activity needs to be both concise and precise; both short and clear. Every sentence should be phrased carefully and be grammatically correct. Slang and verbosity, which may cause confusion, should be rigorously avoided. Every word should be the right word, every word should count, and two words should never be used where one would do. Technical terms should be introduced explicitly, defined carefully, and used consistently. No rule should be stated twice— especially if it is worded differently in different places.

With a novel or a newspaper or a magazine article we read along, get the general gist of things, and that is all we need. We’re not used to reading documents that are written in the tight, compressed, precise way that a good rules document is written. That is why, in addition to rules documents, we need rules guides.  The purpose of a rules guide is to translate the compressed language of a rules document into the kind of language that we normally use in everyday life, so that players can more easily understand the full meaning and implication of the rules.

A rules guide document is a collection of comments on the rules. One thing that a comment can do is to point out implications of a particular rule. For example, when a single word (“only if” rather than “if) has significant implications for the meaning of a rule, a comment can point that out. Sometimes the full significance of a rule can be seen only when it is placed in a wider historical or cultural context— comments can provide that wider context. In some situations there may seem to be no applicable rule, or multiple contradictory applicable rules— a rules guide can note the existence of such situations and explain how to deal with them.

A rules guide will almost certainly need to be revised more frequently than a rules document. With time, players will inevitably find new ways to be confused by the rules, and will come up with new questions about the rules. The rules (if they were well-written) won’t need to be revised, but the rules guide will need to be updated to deal with such new confusions and questions as they emerge.

Note that a rules guide is not the same thing as an umpire’s guide. A rules guide contains comments on the rules of the game. An umpire’s guide contains guidelines, advice, and instructions for umpires, telling them how to perform their roles as umpires. A petanque umpires’ guide, for instance, would help umpires in deciding when to impose penalties and which penalties to impose; how to reach a decision when teams offer conflicting stories about what happened; and so on.

Ideally we would have three separate documents— the rules, a rules guide, and an umpire’s guide. In the case of petanque what we actually have is only the FIPJP’s international rules in which umpire guidelines are intermixed with rules of the game. There is no separate FIPJP rules guide or umpire’s guide. Some national federations also issue a “rules interpretations guidelines for umpires” that contains rules guides and umpire’s guidelines.

Boules played out of turn

This post was first published on the Petanque Libre blog under the title Boules played out of turn - comparing FIPJP and PL. I republish it here because I think it gives a clear account of the FIPJP procedures for dealing with boules thrown out-of-turn. See also our earlier post, A boule thrown out-of-turn.

A recent question on Mike Pegg’s “Ask the umpire” forum provides a good opportunity for comparing and contrasting the FIPJP rules and the rules of Petanque Libre. The purpose of this discussion is not to pass judgement on the merits of these rules. It is simply to point out the differences between the two sets of rules with regard to one specific kind of situation.

Steve Frampton asked about a situation that occurred during a recent competition. Here is my paraphrase of his question.

Team A is holding the point. Ben, on team B, throws boule B2. B2 doesn’t gain the point, but it bumps the jack closer to B1, team B’s first boule. Team A sees that the jack has been moved, but says nothing. Ben, standing in the circle, doesn’t realize that B2 has moved the jack. Ben and team B don’t go to the head to inspect the situation on the ground. Team B doesn’t think that are holding, so they continue pointing.

Team B points 3 boules (B3, B4, B5), none of which disturbs any of the balls already on the ground. The last boule clearly calls for a closer inspection of the situation around the jack. As the teams inspect the situation, they discover that Ben’s boule B2 had actually gained the point when it bumped the jack toward B1.

At this point, the question is— Team B threw 3 boules “contrary to the rules”, right? What should be done? Is it relevant that team A saw that B2 moved the jack, but said nothing?

Mike’s opinion, and the consensus opinion of the comments, has three parts.

  1. After throwing B2, it was team B’s responsibility to verify that they didn’t have the point before throwing their next boule. They didn’t do that, so the fault for the boules played out-of-turn lies entirely with team B.
  2. Boules B3, B4, and B5 were thrown “contrary to the rules”. Therefore, under the provisions of Article 24, team A has the choice of deciding whether each boule is dead or still valid. Team A has the right to declare all three of the boules to be dead.
    NOTE that the assertion that the three boules were thrown contrary to the rules is actually an interpretion of the expression “thrown contrary to the rules”, and an interpretation that is not universally shared. A rules interpretation by Petanque New Zealand, for instance, says “Boules played out of turn are not considered as an infringement to the rules [as “boules thrown contrary to the rules”] but indeed as a mistake. Players making such a mistake penalise themselves by reducing or losing the ‘boule advantage’. In conclusion, players do not incur any penalty, and boule(s) are valid and stay in place.”
  3. When team A saw that B2 moved the jack, team A were under no obligation whatsoever to say “you may have moved the jack”.

The last point seems to fly in the face of our ordinary sense of fairness. Surely, one thinks, team A had a moral obligation, if not an obligation under the FIPJP rules, to speak up when they saw that B2 had moved the jack. The umpire at the competition where this situation occurred apparently shared this opinion— he ruled that it would be unfair to disqualify all three boules, and told team A that they could choose to disqualify one, and only one, of the three boules.

If we now turn to the rules of Petanque Libre (PL), two things are worth noting.

First— PL rules, unlike FIPJP rules, contain provisions that explicitly deal with just this kind of situation. The PL rules are designed for use by players in games where no umpires are present to provide rules interpretations. The PL rules consequently need to be so clear and explicit that questions of “interpretation” or “fairness” simply never arise.

Second— PL’s treatment of this kind of situation (in the DECIDING WHICH TEAM THROWS NEXT section) is different from the consensus interpretation of the FIPJP rules that we’ve just presented. PL (version 5, the latest version) says—

It is the responsibility of both teams to reach an agreement about which team has the point and which team should throw the next boule.

If both teams agree on which team should throw the next boule, and that team throws the next boule, the boule is considered to have been legally thrown. The legality of the thrown boule cannot be changed by subsequent measurements or discoveries (e.g. a measurement for the point or the discovery of a forgotten boule).

A team that has the opportunity to challenge the point, but does not challenge it and lets the opposing team play the next boule, is considered to have agreed that the opposing team should throw the next boule.


In our example situation:


and when it is discovered that B2 had gained the point:

This is, I think, an accurate comparison of the FIPJP rules (or at least: the consensus interpretation of the FIPJP rules) and the PL rules regarding boules thrown out-of-turn.