Feet and hands “inside the circle”?

A regular question on petanque forums is: What does “inside the circle” mean? But you never see the question put that way. Instead, you see questions about what a player is or is not permitted to do while throwing.

  1. Can the toe of a player’s shoe be above the front of the circle, as long as it doesn’t actually touch the circle?
  2. Can the heel of a squat pointer’s shoe be above the back of the circle, as long as it doesn’t actually touch the circle?
  3. Can a squat pointer balance himself by touching the ground inside the circle with his non-throwing hand?
  4. Can a squat pointer touch the ground inside the circle with a knee?

Article 6 (title: “Start of play and rules regarding the circle”) says—

The players’ feet must be entirely on the inside of the circle and not encroach on its perimeter …. No part of the body may touch the ground outside the circle.

This rule, at least with respect to our four questions, seems to me to be quite clear. Imagine that the inside edge of the circle projects an invisible wall upward into the sky, so that the player is in effect standing or squatting inside an invisible cylinder. Article 6 says, in effect, that (a) no part of the player’s feet may protrude out through that cylinder, and (b) no part of the player’s body may touch the ground outside that cylinder. (Note that this does allow a player’s arms, knees, and torso to extend outside of the cylinder during his backswing and throw. They will be outside of the cylinder, yes, but they will not be touching the ground outside of the cylinder.)

If you can visualize such a cylinder, it is easy to answer our four questions.

  1. Can the toe of a player’s shoe be above the front of the circle, as long as it doesn’t actually touch the circle? No. His toe (which is part of his foot) would be outside the cylinder.
  2. Can the heel of a squat pointer’s shoe be above the back of the circle, as long as it doesn’t actually touch the circle? No. His heel (which is part of his foot) would be outside the cylinder.
  3. Can a squat pointer balance himself by touching the ground inside the circle with his non-throwing hand? Yes. His non-throwing hand would not be touching the ground outside the cylinder.
  4. Can a squat pointer touch the ground inside the circle with a knee? Yes … if he can do so while both feet are inside the cylinder and touching the ground!

These answers seem clear and easy. And everybody agrees on the first answer.
Surprisingly, there is disagreement about the other three.

New Zealand Petanque disagrees with answer #2. For many years the NZP rules interpretation guidelines have said

When crouching in the circle to play a boule/jack, the players heel can encroach over the inside edge of the circle, provided it does not touch the circle. If the player stands up and onto the circle before the boule/jack has touched the ground, they have stood on the perimeter of the circle, and not had both feet entirely inside the circle as required. A warning (yellow card) will be given.

International umpire Mike Pegg disagrees with answers #3 and #4. Mike’s answer, in both cases, is NO. Mike maintains that the only parts of the player’s body that may touch the ground are his/her feet.

This leaves umpires and players in a quandary — Should we follow what the written rules say? Or what Mike Pegg says? Or what the New Zealand umpires committee says? Or what seems sensible to us?

I vote for following the written rules. I admit that there are some situations where applying the rules as written can be difficult or unfair. But these situations aren’t among them. With respect to these four questions, the answers provided by the rules are clear and fair.

With respect to question #2, I can understand NZP’s position. As a practical matter, it can be difficult for an umpire to judge whether a squat pointer’s raised heel has encroached on the circle. So except for the most egregious cases an umpire will not, and should not, penalize a player.

With respect to questions #3 and #4, I think that we have to be careful not to read into the rules things that aren’t actually there. We know that players have a tendency to invent mythical rules. You can’t fill a hole with your hand. You can’t wear gloves while throwing a boule. I think that Mike’s position is a product of that tendency. A squat pointer can’t balance himself by touching the ground inside the circle with his non-throwing hand, seems to me to be just another mythical rule. It has absolutely no basis in the written rules.

Mike’s position also seems to me somewhat contrary to the spirit of the game, which allows handicapped players quite a bit of latitude when it comes to standing inside the circle. A squat-pointing player is going to put a hand on the ground only if he absolutely must do so in order to maintain his balance. No completely able-bodied player is going to do it. It seems to me, therefore, that it is in keeping with the spirit of the game, as well as the letter of the law, to permit a squat-pointer to balance himself with a hand on the ground inside the circle.

 updated 2021-11-21

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