Can an object outside the lane be a pointing obstacle?

revised 2022-05-20

Can an object outside the lane be a pointing obstacle?
The answer is— YES.

With the 2020 rules changes, it is now legal to throw the jack right up against a side boundary line, and players are asking questions that they never asked before.

Lanes A and B are separated by a boundary string. There is an object (a tree) in lane B, very close to the boundary string. This object is a pointing obstacle on lane B. Is it a pointing obstacle for lane A?

Article 7 specifies that a thrown (or placed) jack must be at least 50cm from any obstacle. This insures that there is a sort of open range for boules around the jack so that it is possible for a player to point a boule anywhere into that zone. So the question boils down to— Are there any situations in which the object on lane B could be located in the open range around a jack on lane A?

The answer is YES, but there there are two slightly different situations that we need to consider.

The boundary line is a guide-line but not a dead-ball line
When the boundary line is simply a guide-line, neighboring lanes are live ground (terrain authorisée) for a game, and the open range around the jack can extend across a side boundary string and into a neighboring lane.

The boundary line is a dead-ball line
When the boundary line is a dead-ball line (as it would be in a time-limited game), the open range around the jack can extend 8cm, but only 8cm, into a neighboring lane.

Why 8cm?

The maximum legal diameter of a boule is 8cm. A boule can almost cross a dead-ball line and still be alive. That means that an object that is less than 8cm outside a dead-ball line actually can be an obstacle to a boule that has almost, but not completely, crossed the line. In effect, the open range for boules generated by the jack extends 8cm into dead ground, but no more. Beyond 8cm from the dead-ball line no boule can survive, so an object located there can not be an obstacle to a live boule.

THE BOTTOM LINE— Something outside the lane is a pointing obstacle if (a) it is less than 50cm from the jack, and (b) it is less than 8cm outside the dead-ball line.

In this diagram the shaded area is part of lane B, and it is also part of the open range for boules around the jack on lane A. Any object that occupies any part of the shaded area is a pointing obstacle for the jack on lane A.

Let’s look at a concrete example. In this diagram we see a tree on lane B, close to the dead-ball string. There are areas of the open range around the jack where the boule can’t be pointed— those areas are already occupied by the tree, and no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. So the tree really is a pointing obstacle. This is just the kind of situation that the notion of an open range around the jack is meant to prevent— a feature of the terrain is blocking a boule’s legitimate access to part of the area around the jack.

Players often have similar questions about wooden surrounds (boule-stops), which are, after all, objects outside the lane boundaries.

Is a wooden surround a pointing obstacle?

Our terrain is marked by dead-ball strings and enclosed by a wooden surround (boule-stop). Is the wooden surround a pointing obstacle?

Since the open range for boules around a jack can extend 8cm into dead ground—

  • If the wooden surround is 8cm or less from the dead-ball string, it is indeed a pointing obstacle and the thrown jack must be at least 50cm from it.
     
  • Otherwise (if the surround is more than 8cm from of the dead-ball string) it is not a pointing obstacle. You can throw the jack right up against a side dead-ball line.

This is why a wooden surround should always be installed more than 8cm outside a dead-ball string. Or maybe we should say— the dead-ball string should always be installed more than 8cm inside the wooden surround. The recommended minimum distance is 30cm.


When there is no dead-ball string, is a wooden surround an obstacle?

Our terrain is enclosed by a wooden surround, but we have no dead-ball strings. Is the wooden surround considered to be a pointing obstacle?

Not installing dead-ball strings may be a perfectly sensible decision in light of your local conditions. Still, it means that you are not playing by FIPJP rules; you are playing by your own local rules. Don’t waste time trying to figure out how the FIPJP rules should work under your local rules. Develop your own local rule for this situation. Adopt whatever rule makes the most sense in your local conditions.

If it were my decision to make, I would decide to consider a wooden surround a pointing obstacle. That would mean that the thrown (or placed) jack must be at least 50cm from it. I think that that would be the best way to achieve the intent of the rule— to insure that there is an open area on all sides of the the jack, so that a player can point a boule anywhere into that open area.


When the dead-ball string is moved

Every petanque player knows the basic rule that a jack or a boule is dead if it completely crosses a dead-ball line. Almost always, the dead-ball line is a physical object— a string— that was installed on the playing area by authorized officials before the beginning of the competition. Determining whether a ball has completely crossed a dead-ball line therefore is a process of inspecting two physical objects—the ball and the string—and determining their spatial relationship.

There is something about this process that the FIPJP rules do not say, but that international umpire Mike Pegg has made clear in multiple answers on his “Ask the Umpire” Facebook forum— in order for this process to take place, the dead-ball string must be in its correct location.[1] The string’s correct location is the location where it was installed by authorized officials before the beginning of the competition.

Problems can arise if the string is not installed properly. Article 5 says that the string should be thin enough that it doesn’t affect the smooth running of the game, but in practice the diameter of the string is less important than the way it is installed. A string needs to be taut so it is straight, and it needs to be flush to the ground. If the surface of the terrain is irregular, with humps and bumps— hills and valleys, as it were—the string may stretch across low spots, suspended in mid-air like a bridge. In such cases, the string can be high enough above the ground to interfere with the movement of a rolling jack or boule. In this photo the string is far enough above the ground for the jack actually to be caught beneath it.

In such cases, a player can trip on the string, or a rolling boule or a player’s foot may catch the string and move it out of its correct location. And that’s when players start asking questions about what to do when the dead-ball string is moved.

There are two types of situations that raise questions.

  • Something pushes the string out of place. The string then snaps back to its correct location, pushing a boule or the jack back onto the terrain.
  • Something (typically a boule) pushes the string out of place… and the string remains stuck there, out of position.


Let’s look at some examples of the first type of situation. Something pushes the string out of place. The string then snaps back to its correct location, pushing a boule or the jack back onto the terrain.

A boule is moving toward the dead-ball line when it is caught by the boundary string. The string stretches and then, like a bowstring launching an arrow, pushes the boule back onto the terrain. In the scenario shown in the picture, did the ball cross the dead-ball line or not? What prevails— the string itself or the lane limit it represents? Is the boule dead or alive?

Here’s another example. This one involves the jack rather than a boule.

I was standing near the dead-ball line when my partner shot the jack. The jack flew toward me and in order not to stop it, I stepped back. My shoe caught the dead-ball string and pulled it back. The jack crossed the place where the string had been. When I lifted my foot, the string snapped back to its normal location, knocking the jack back in-bounds. Our opponents did not see this, and neither did the umpire. The umpire ruled that the jack was still good.

What these situations have in common is that the string was in motion throughout the incident. There was never a point in time when observers could visually compare the location of the ball to the location of the string in its correct location. Given that fact, all that players and umpires can do is to wait for everything to come to rest, and then compare the location of the ball to the location of the string. In both of these cases, the ball ends up inside the dead-ball string, so it is still alive.

Note that these situations are different from a situation in which a boule rolls across the string and then, because of a slope in the ground, rolls back in-bounds. In such a case, the string remains in its correct location. Observers can see the string and they can see the boule, and they can see that the boule completely crosses the string before rolling back in-bounds. The boule is dead.


In the second kind of situation, something pushes the string out of place, and the string remains stuck there, out of position.

In this photo we see that a boule has pushed the dead-ball string outward from its correct location. The jack is on the out-of-bounds side of the dead-ball string but still touching the string.

The question is—Is the jack dead?

The answer is— We don’t know. We can’t tell, because we can’t compare the location of the jack to the location of the string when the string is in its correct location.

The solution to the problem is to put the string back into its correct location.

Then we can make a decision based on the locations of the jack and the string.

We need to be extremely careful when moving the string back to its correct location. In this case, we can’t move the string without moving the boule, so we mark the boule’s location. We then very carefully remove the boule, allowing the string to move back to its correct location. Then we compare the location of the jack to the location of the string.

Judging from the photograph, we will probably find that the jack is out-of-bounds and dead. However, if we discover that the jack is alive we return the boule to its marked location and carry on with the game.


Now that we know how to handle such situations, we can see how a variation of one of our earlier situations should be handled. In this case, the string is moved but it isn’t allowed to snap back into place. It is held out-of-place by a player’s foot.

I was standing near the dead-ball line when my partner shot the jack. The jack flew toward me and in order not to stop it, I stepped back. My shoe caught the dead-ball string and pulled it back. The jack crossed the place where the string had been.
Surprised, I froze in position. When the umpire arrived, he held the string while I extricated my foot. Then he carefully lifted the string over the jack and returned the string to its normal location. At that point the jack was clearly out-of-bounds and the umpire ruled that the jack was dead.


Finally, in a situation where the string was so poorly installed, Mike Pegg points out that there is one more thing to be done.[2]

The umpire is not responsible for the string line being tight or fixed down, although before the games started the umpire should have checked that everything was in good order. As soon as the end in question is over, the umpire should arrange with the venue organisation to have the line re-tensioned or fixed down.

 


FOOTNOTES
[1] See Mike Pegg’s reply to Rob Brealey (June 2, 2018) https://www.facebook.com/groups/128791213885003/permalink/1583415321755911/

Rob— What’s the ruling when team A is holding the point and team B shoot successfully but team A’s boule moves the dead ball line causing both boule to still be in?

Mike – I’m assuming the string is being prevented from returning to its correct position by one of the boules. In this case the string should be carefully moved to its correct position— without disturbing the boules— and then check to see if the boules have crossed the string. You should also fix the string so that it cannot be moved again.

See also Mike’s follow-up post https://www.facebook.com/groups/128791213885003/permalink/1584258958338214/

[T]he string line has to be in place to determine if the boule has fully crossed it….

 
[2] https://www.facebook.com/groups/128791213885003/posts/4553615681402512/