2020 rules – removing the “moistening” rule

[For other posts about the 2020 rules and changes to the rules, see THIS.]
For many years, Article 16 of the FIPJP rules said this: “It is forbidden to moisten the boules or the jack.”   Its counterpart in the rules of Petanque Libre was: When a player plays a boule, the boule must be clean and dry (weather permitting). I assumed that it was an anti-mud rule, like the rule that you must clean mud off of a boule before measuring. (You have to measure to the surface of the boule, not to the surface of a mud coating.)

It seemed a straightforward rule, so I was surprised when it was removed in 2020. If it was so straightforward, then why, I wondered, was it removed? And I began to wonder— If the FIPJP international umpires were so willing to remove it, why was it in the rules in the first place? I started surfing around the web, looking for answers.

Why did the moistening rule exist in the first place?

When I was a beginning player, a friend told me that a wet boule will pick up dirt as it rolls, slowing it down. To my friend, playing with a wet boule was like playing with a stuffed boule— a form of cheating. Just as stuffed boules are forbidden, so wet boules are forbidden.

This seemed implausible to me. It seemed unlikely that a wet boule could pick up enough dirt as it rolled to significantly affect its motion. If it could, the amount of dirt and its effect would be unpredictable.

Another theory is that the rule is designed to keep players from spitting on their boules, a gross, unhygienic practice that harms the image of the game. Not likely. If you want to prohibit players from spitting on their boules, write a rule prohibiting spitting on boules, like the rule that prohibits smoking during a game.

There is another theory. With a bit of moisture on a boule, some players can throw a boule whose trajectory will curve in mid-air, like a spitball in baseball. That gives skillful players an unfair advantage over less-skillful players, an advantage that is somehow “outside the spirit of the game.” But I don’t buy that, either. First, I doubt that it is possible to throw a curving spitball with a petanque boule. Certainly, it has never been shown to be possible. Even if it is possible, I don’t think that it would be a useful skill in petanque— unlike in baseball, a shooter or a pointer isn’t trying to get around an opposing player standing in the head. And even if it is useful, I see no reason to ban it. Certainly there is nothing unfair about some players being more skillful than others.

Another theory is that a little moisture on the hand (and so on the boule) gives a player a better grip on the boule. This seems to me plausible and true. Jac Verheul says—

During a lot of years I played with a wet towel. Not in order to moisten my boules, but just to moisten my hand. In that time I played with stainless steel boules that always slipped out of my hand, even when they had some grooves. But since about 2004 I play with carbon steel boules, and there is no more reason to moisten my hand. It’s all a question of a good ‘grip’.

Behind many of these theories, in addition to the idea that playing with wet boules must provide some kind of advantage, is the idea that that advantage— whatever it is— must somehow be unfair. I don’t understand that idea, and 15 years ago neither did Graeme Burnard. Graeme was (still is?) a member of Petanque New Zealand. In 2006, he wrote a post called Rules, Rules, Bloody Rules in which he rails against petanque rules that make no sense— stupid rules. One of the stupid rules is the moistening rule, aka the “wetting the rag rule”.

I understand it is illegal to wet one’s rag as “it gives one an unfair advantage”. Excuse me? Isn’t that about as silly as banning sunglasses, hats with a brim, sleeveless shirts… Wouldn’t they all give you some advantage over someone who was wearing no hat, and wearing overalls and woolen long johns when it’s 30 degrees Centigrade.

Listening to Jac and Graeme, I’m beginning to understand that for all practical purposes, the moistening rule wasn’t a rule against moistening the boules. It was a rule against playing with a wet boule towel.

This is from Graeme’s post.

Anyway, the whole reason for putting pen to paper was about a rule I discovered whilst playing in the Kapiti Open Doubles last weekend and I have to confess that I cheated during the tournament. Not only did I cheat, I knowingly cheated, and not only did I knowingly cheat, I enjoyed cheating knowingly. It is so bad, I can’t bring myself to mention it, but I have to because I wouldn’t be able to face my conscience ever again. I…….., I………, I………(come on Graeme, be brave), I……… WET MY RAG!!! There, I’ve said it!!. Oh, the relief!!!!

Yes, I wet my rag. Oh my God. I gave myself an advantage over the other 47 teams. It worked too. We went from 27th to 26th place. Now, I understand it is illegal to wet one’s rag as it gives one an unfair advantage over the opposition. Excuse me? Isn’t that about as silly as banning sunglasses, hats with a brim, sleeveless shirts, crutchless underwear. Wouldn’t they all give you some advantage over someone who was wearing no hat, and wearing overalls and woolen long johns when it’s 30 degrees Centigrade.

I actually used my rag to put around my neck to cool off. Having suffered in the last 12 years from Legionnaires Disease, a heart attack and a mild stroke (and I am not yet 50) I get tired easily and feel the heat and now some tosser is going to tell me I cannot wet my rag to cool off. Apparently the rule actually relates to wetting your boule, but I cannot see how that can give you an advantage. What scientific studies have been done to ascertain this and wouldn’t the boule blow dry itself as it sailed through the air on its way to a perfect carreau so any advantage would soon disappear?

I understand that one player in last year’s Trans Tasman had his wet rag taken off him. I mean, really, have you ever heard of anything so stupid.

In a comment on the post, Andy Gilbert (National & International Arbiter) wrote—

As you mentioned there was a recent incident at the Trans Tasman. Unfortunately I was the official at that infamous game. Acting on direct instructions from the international arbiter, Andre Deramond, to enforce the ‘wet rag rule’ throughout the tourney I called the Tahiti team captain for using a wet rag and asked her to take it away from the terrain. With ill grace she tossed it to the side. The other team members also made a hasty effort to change rags before I inspected them. I assume they were all using moistened rags.

So again we see the moistening rule being interpreted as forbidding players from playing with a wet boule towel.


There are a couple of comments on Graeme’s post that I find especially interesting. In the first, Tom van Bodegraven says—

I agree with the essence of what Graeme Burnard wrote. If a rule makes absolutely no sense and can not be justified through common sense or science, it should be removed. [Other commenters] have brought up many examples of the absurdity of Art. 16. I do not know how and when this Article 16 came about, but I feel the people responsible [i.e. the FIPJP international umpires who wrote Article 16] should be charged with bringing the game into disrepute. Maybe a submission should be tabled at the forthcoming PNZ AGM for the removal of Art. 16 from our NZ playing rules.

In the second, Michael E writes—

If the rule is stupid then we (or PNZ) do have the right to change it. We’re not beholden to FIPJP as to how the game is played in this country.

Note that what we’re seeing in these two comments is a grassroots call for the removal of the moistening rule. This is in 2006, 15 years before the FIPJP actually did remove it.

In another comment, Michael E notes that although New Zealand umpires interpret the moistening rule as a ban on wet boule towels, some other umpires do not.

During the World Championships 2006 Final, one of the Belgian players grabbed a bottle of water, wet his rag, and rung it out over the terrain. This was in front of the crowd, the opposition, on national TV, and with two arbitres… who watched him and took no action.

Michael goes on to make the same point that Jac Verheul made earlier.—

Most of the reasons given for a supposed advantage [of playing with a wet rag] are ridiculous and unfounded. I know myself, and I’ve spoken to many players who play with a wet rag, and the perceived benefit is only that the contact between the ball and the hand is ‘cleaner’ if the hand is slightly damp. Remember the rag is damp, not wet. Any moisture applied to the ball will evaporate before it is played anyway.

All of that was being floated as long ago as 2006. And it still is. Apparently, not long ago, at an international competition, there was an incident involving an umpire, a wet boule towel, and a Thai player who was using the wet boule towel to help keep cool. (I don’t know any more details of the incident. If you do, I’d appreciate it if you left a comment.)

What was the moistening rule REALLY about?

I think it’s fair to say that nobody has been able to offer a good reason for the moistening rule, and that nobody knows why the rule was originally inserted into the FIPJP rules. What is certain, however, is that umpires widely interpreted the rule as banning players from playing with wet boule towels or rags.

This is a problem. Many players actually do like to use a wet boule towel, and they have good reasons for doing so. In hot, tropical climates, carrying a wet boule towel can help a player stay cool. A wet boule towel can help keep a player’s hands from becoming uncomfortably dry. Above all, a wet boule towel may improve a player’s grip by keeping his/her hands slightly damp.

These benefits (or “advantages” if you will) should be available to all players. Some players believe that the FIPJP rules forbid players from wearing gloves because wearing gloves gives a player an “unfair advantage”. They are mistaken. The FIPJP rules do not forbid glove-wearing, and any benefits/advantages that gloves confer are not unfair— they are available to all players equally. If I’m wearing gloves and you want to wear gloves too, you can. The same (now, in 2021) is finally true of carrying a wet boule towel.

Why was the moistening rule removed?

Now that it’s gone, we can ask: Why was the moistening rule removed?

Mike Pegg says that the rule was removed “because it is extremely difficult if not impossible for the umpire to enforce/check that each and every player is not using a damp cloth.” Note Mike’s reference— not to damp boules but to a damp cloth.

I doubt if we’re ever going to find out why the moistening rule was removed now, in 2020. But given that there never was a good reason for the rule, and given the fact that players have been deeply unhappy with the rule for decades, it seems silly to ask why the rule was removed now. The appropriate question is— Why wasn’t it removed years ago?


2020 rules – new rules about placing the circle and the jack

[revised 2021-05-30]
[For other posts about the 2020 rules and changes to the rules, see THIS.]
The FIPJP rules have changed. Article 7 of the 2020 version of the rules makes dramatic changes to the rules about where the circle and the jack can be thrown or placed. Basically, the new rules specify minimum required distances from three things— boundaries, other games, and obstacles.

Previously, the rules defining the landing strip were quite complex. Now there is only one simple rule. The jack can be thrown or placed anywhere on the assigned lane, except within 50cm of an end (short side) of the lane.

There is no longer any requirement that a jack must be a minimum distance from a side line or a dead-ball line. As long as the jack is touching the ground of the assigned lane, it is valid. It can touch a side line, and even extend over it, and still be valid. (A thrown jack is not like a hit jack, which can be resting on ground outside the dead-ball line and still be good.)


Other games
The rule now is simple. The circle and jack must be at least 1.5 meters from any other active circle or jack.

Formerly, the circle and the jack had to be at least 1 meter from any obstacle. The distance for the jack was reduced to 50cm, so now the minimum distance from an obstacle is different for the circle and the jack.

  • The circle must be at least 1 meter from any obstacle.
  • The jack must be at least 50cm from any obstacle.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: there are three simple rules.

  1. The thrown or placed jack must be at least 50cm from an end line or a pointing obstacle.
  2. The circle must be placed at least 1 meter from any throwing obstacle.
  3. The circle and jack must be at least 1.5 meters from any other active circle or jack.

Worst-case scenarios under the new rules
The new requirement that the jack must be at least 1.5 meters from any other active circle or jack, has raised concerns that it would create problems, especially when playing on a narrow 3-meter-wide lane.

One worst-case scenario occurs with active jacks in neighboring games kissing the boundary strings on both sides. The full width of the lane is available only if you throw the jack to 6-7 meters. There is no place on the lane where you can throw the jack to 8.5 meters. (In this diagram, pink areas show the landing strip for the jack.)

Perhaps the very worst scenario is this one. The neighboring jacks are offset from each other, so that there is virtually no place where the landing strip extends the full width of the lane.

Obviously, such situations will be extremely rare. But they are possible.

Can the thrown jack straddle a side boundary line?

The 2020 rules removed the requirement that a jack must be some minimum distance from a side line. This has prompted players to ask questions like this one on Ask the Umpire.

Must the thrown jack be 100% inside the side line of the lane? Or can it straddle the side line and still be valid, like a boule or a hit jack?

The rules say that the jack must be thrown on the assigned terrain (see Article 6). So the question essentially boils down to this—

What does “on the assigned terrain” mean?   Is a thrown jack straddling a side guide line considered to be “on the assigned terrain”?

The answer to this question was provided by Mike Pegg. In order to be valid, the thrown jack must be touching the ground of the assigned lane. A jack that is touching the ground inside the line is valid even if it is also touching the the line (string) around the assigned lane. Because the jack has a round shape and is larger than the string, if the jack is touching the string, it will also be slightly bulging over the string. That’s OK. The jack is valid.

Note that this is different from the rule about “entirely crossing the line” in order for a boule or jack to be considered dead. In that rule, a boule or jack may be resting on dead ground, or even on the string itself, and still be alive. That is DIFFERENT from the rule governing a thrown jack.

Because a plastic throwing circle doesn’t have the same kind of round shape as a jack, the rule for the throwing circle is different. To be considered “on the assigned lane”, the entire circle must be inside the boundary lines of the lane. The side of the circle may touch the line, but the circle cannot extend over the line.

Some players have asked—

What if one throws the jack up to the side line string, the jack rolls and touches the string, and then curves back in and comes to rest in a valid position. Would the jack be considered as valid?

The answer is clearly YES. If the jack had rolled up to the string and stopped right there, touching the string, it would be valid. And rolling away from the string afterwards doesn’t change that.

But consider a more radical question.

What if one throws the jack. It crosses the terrain boundary-line, hits something on the ground near the line, and bounces back inside the boundary line of the terrain. Is the thrown jack valid?

There is a difference between a jack being alive and being valid. Mike Pegg says that the thrown jack comes alive when it leaves the player’s hand. It is alive as it flies through the air. When it comes to rest on the terrain— if it is in a valid location, and if it is still alive— it becomes valid. On the other hand, if the jack in its journey crosses the dead ball line, it is dead on arrival. It cannot become valid.

2020 rules – new FIPJP rules for 2021

[For other posts about the 2020 rules and changes to the rules, see THIS.]
The FIPJP has just released a new version of the international rules of petanque. You can download a copy of the 2020 version (pdf) from the FIPJP or CEP web sites. You can also download a copy (pdf, docx) from our archives page, which also has files showing the differences between the old and new versions, and a quick online reference page where you can easily read the rules on your smart phone.

Here is our overview of the changes in the 2020 rules.

Substantive changes to the rules

1. [Article 6] [Article 12]

Formerly Article 12 said: “To avoid any argument, the players must mark the jack’s position. No claim can be accepted regarding boules or jack whose positions have not been marked.”  This was widely, although not universally, interpreted as a hypothetical imperative— “If you want to avoid arguments, then you must mark the jack’s position.” This rule has been REMOVED from Article 12.

It has been REPLACED by a new rule in Article 6: “The players must mark the position of the jack initially and after each time it is moved. No claims will be allowed for an unmarked jack and the umpire will rule only on the position of the jack on the terrain.” This rule is clearly a requirement, not a hypothetical imperative.  Players must mark the position of the thrown-or-placed jack, and must mark the jack’s location again every time it is subsequently moved. The jack may be marked by any player in the game, but in the event of a problem caused by an unmarked jack, the player who threw (or placed or last moved) the jack will be given a warning (a yellow card).

2. [Article 7] Throw away all of your old rules about how far the circle or the thrown jack must be from… whatever. The new rules are different. You can find our discussion of the new rules, complete with colorful diagrams, HERE.

One of the changes is that the throwing circle or thrown jack must be at least 1.5m from any other active circle or jack. Why 1.5m?   I think it must be because 3m is the minimum width of a terrain in regional competitions. Half that width is just about the right distance to be effective and workable on a 3m-wide terrain.

Formerly the rule was that a thrown jack must be 1 meter away from a side dead-ball line in normal games, and 50 cm in time-limited games. That rule was abolished. Now the jack may cuddle up to a side line, whether or not it is a dead-ball line. Mike Pegg says that the reason for changing the rule was to provide “more room to play and a uniform distance for timed and not timed games.” Note that this means that a thrown jack is not like a hit jack, which can straddle a dead-ball line and still be good. In order for a thrown jack to be valid, it must be touching the ground on the assigned lane.

3. [Article 8] If Team A fails to throw a valid jack, the opponents must place it on the terrain at a valid position.  ADDED: “If the jack is not placed in a valid position by the second team, the player who placed it shall be subject to the penalties outlined in article 35. In the event of a repeat offence, a new card will be issued to the whole team, in addition to any cards previously received.”

This change addresses a frequently-asked question about the 2016 rules: “If Albert, on Team A, fails to place the jack in a valid location, should he (or Team A) be penalized, or merely instructed to place it properly?”   The rules now answer that question— he should be penalized.

In fact the 2020 rules provide a remarkably detailed account of how the penalty must be imposed. Suppose that Albert fails to place a valid jack. The umpire gives him a warning (yellow card). Then, if any player on Albert’s team fails to place a valid jack (a repeat of the same offense), a yellow card (warning) will be imposed on Albert and on each of his teammates.

4. [Article 16] REMOVED: “It is forbidden to moisten the boules or the jack.”   Mike Pegg says that the rule was removed “because it is extremely difficult if not impossible for the umpire to enforce/check that each and every player is not using a damp cloth.” For our discussion of this rule, see THIS.

5. [Article 28] The phrase “or disturbs” was added to the first sentence, like this: “The team, whose player displaces or disturbs the jack or one of the contested boules, while effecting a measurement, loses the point. If, during the measurement of a point, the Umpire disturbs or displaces the jack or a boule…” This was probably added in order to increase the parallelism between the two sentences.  But it is problematic.   Up to now a player who gently bumps a boule (it rocks in place but doesn’t change location) has been held not to have displaced it. Now I wonder whether or not bumping but not moving a boule counts as “disturbing” it. Mike Pegg says that merely touching a boule counts as disturbing it.

6. [Article 32] [Article 33] Formerly a team was eliminated from the competition if it was late by more than an hour; now they will be eliminated if they are more than 30 minutes late.

7. [Article 33, Late arrival of players] ADDED: After the first end of a game… “the following ends are considered to have started as soon as the last boule from the previous end has stopped.”  For a long time it has been the standard practice in time-limited games to deem one end to have finished, and the next end to have started, when the last boule thrown in the end comes to rest.  Now this same criterion has been adopted by the FIPJP rules for the purposes of determining when a late-arriving player may join a game.

Minor changes to the rules

1. A few paragraphs have been moved to slightly different places.  In a few places, the wording of the rules has been slightly improved.  In the French rules, the word for a singles game (tête-à-tête) has been replaced by the word individuel.    In Article 20, the expression terrain jouable has been changed to terrain autorisé.   References to the “penalties” specified in Article 35 have been changed to references to the “sanctions” specified there. References to “the umpire” have been replaced by “an umpire”.

2. In Article 22, a boule moved by a boule in the game is no longer “valid”; now it “remains in its new position.” But in Article 12, a jack moved by a boule in the game is still “valid”.

3. Errors left in the text after the 2016 revision have been corrected. In Article 8, the sentence “If any team proceeds differently, it loses the benefit of the throwing of the jack” has been removed.   The incorrect reference to the “second paragraph of Article 8″ in Article 16, was corrected to “third paragraph”. 

4. Over the years, the umpires have tried to specify— everywhere in the rules— that an illegally-moved boule or jack could be put it back in its original location, provided it was marked.  Now they’ve fixed a few places that they’d missed earlier. [Article 22, Article 23] 

5. Now: the rules explicitly state that boules must be hollow (creuse).  [Article 2]

6. Now: if a disabled player plays with only one foot inside the circle, “the other foot must not be in front of it.

7. Now: no-one, as a test, may throw their boules during a game including away from the lane where they are playing. 

About the English version of the FIPJP rules

A few minor translation errors have been fixed. However, two important errors have not been fixed.

► Article 16 still mistranslates point nul as “dead end” rather than “null point”.

► Article 29 still mistranslates une mene nulle both as an end that is “dead” and “null and void”. Translating the same French expression into English in two completely different ways is a problem. A bigger problem is that it misses the best translation for une mene nulle, which is “a scoreless end”.