Players sometimes ask— Is a wooden sideboard an obstacle? What they mean is— If the circle is less than a meter from a sideboard, should we move it (the circle) away from the sideboard?
The question comes up because there is a concern that if the circle is too close to a wooden sideboard, a squat pointer or a player in a wheelchair might hit a hand on the sideboard when throwing.
On “Ask the Umpire” Mike Pegg has given different anwers to this question at different times. First he ruled that a sideboard is not an obstacle— a concerned squat pointer must stand, not squat, when pointing. Later he stated that a sideboard higher than 20cm is an obstacle because “at this height or higher it may impede a player.” Still later he stated that a board of 25cm is an obstacle. (At this point it was clear that he was just making up rules as he went along.) Finally (as of January 2021), his position seems to be that— As a general rule, a player crouching or standing in the circle must be able to swing their arm backwards without touching anything. If they cannot, then the item preventing this action would be considered an obstacle.
The problem here is that the FIPJP rules never define the word “obstacle”, so it’s an open question whether any particular thing (such as a sideboard) is a throwing obstacle. So we need to begin by defining “throwing obstacle”. I propose this— a throwing obstacle is something that might prevent a player from throwing with his normal throwing form, or something that might cause injury to a player if he plays with his normal throwing form.
We cannot specify an exact height (in centimeters) at which a wooden sideboard becomes a throwing obstacle. The notion of an “obstacle” just doesn’t work that way. The operational concept here is not height or centimeters. It is at least interference, if not outright harm and danger.
In normal circumstances a wooden sideboard is not considered an obstacle— it doesn’t interfere with a player’s normal throwing form and it poses no danger to a player as he stands in the circle and throws a boule. But in some situations it might prevent a player from throwing with his normal throwing form, or it might cause injury to a player if he plays with his normal throwing form. In those situation, a wooden sideboard should be considered an obstacle, and the circle should be moved away from it.
So the answer to the question is:
Normally a wooden sideboard is not considered to be a throwing obstacle, but in some cases it is.
Moving the circle away from a throwing obstacle is something that should be done before the jack is thrown. That means that if one of your team’s players is a squat pointer, or plays from a wheelchair, and you’re concerned about the wooden surround, don’t hesitate— SPEAK UP! Don’t wait until after the jack has been thrown to voice your concerns, because by then it is too late.
See also our post on What is an obstacle?