For a number of years a slow-motion discussion/debate has been creeping along on Mike Pegg’s “Ask the Umpire” Facebook forum, about how umpires should handle foot faults. This is a technical debate by, for, and about umpires and has little relevance for grass-roots players. And it seems to be settled; the umpiring community seems to have reached a consensus on the answer. But it is something that keeps coming up periodically on “Ask the Umpire”, so I think it is worth-while to summarize the current state of the discussion.
The basic question is— When a player commits a foot fault (steps on the circle or lifts a foot) what should the umpire do? And two different answers have been proposed.
- The umpire should impose one of the standard penalties listed in Article 35. In most cases, this means giving the player a warning (yellow card).
- The umpire should impose a standard penalty. In addition, the umpire should disqualify the player’s boule, and restore any balls that it moved to their original locations (if those locations were marked).
Two different arguments have been offered for the second answer.
- The player violated the rules when he committed the foot fault. The umpire therefore should follow the procedures described in Article 24 for handling boules “thrown contrary to the rules”. This means disqualifying the boule, re-spotting balls, etc. etc.
- The player derived an “unfair advantage” from his violation of the rules. An umpire should never allow a player to benefit from violating the rules, so the umpire should undo the effects of the player’s boule. This means disqualifying the boule, re-spotting balls, etc. etc.
The consensus of opinion (supported in my opinion by sound reasoning) seems to be that the correct answer is (1). The umpire should impose a penalty, but leave the situation on the ground unchanged.
The grounds for this opinion go back to 2016 when the bolded text (below) was inserted into Article 24. I don’t know why this change was made. Possibly it was designed specifically to resolve the question that we’re now discussing.
Article 24 – Boules thrown contrary to the rules
Except for cases in which these regulations specify the application of specific and graduated penalties in article 35, any boule thrown contrary to the rules is dead, and anything that it displaced in its travel is put back in place, if those objects had been marked. However, the opponent has the right to apply the advantage rule and declare it to be valid. In this case, the boule pointed or shot, is valid and anything it has displaced remains in its place.
It took a while for the implications of the change to filter out into the umpiring community. In 2018 the foot fault question came up again on Ask the Umpire. In the Masters de Pétanque an umpire had given Dylan Rocher a warning for a foot fault, but he did not disqualify Dylan’s thrown boule. The question was— Did the umpire rule correctly?
Mike Pegg replied with answer 2b— “The umpire should have disqualified the boule and put back the original boule because the player who lifted his foot should not be given this unfair advantage.”
In response, FPUSA umpire Gary Jones pointed out that “Since Article 6 clearly states that Article 35 should be applied for the infraction of lifting one’s foot while throwing, and Article 24 clearly states that it is applicable only where the rules do not provide for specific and graduated penalties as outlined in Article 35, I would rule exactly as the presiding umpire did.”
At the time, Mike didn’t accept Gary’s position. But Gary was clearly correct and by 2022 Mike had changed his mind and ruled in in the same way as Gary and the original umpire.
Let’s look at the arguments supporting the position that the umpire should step in and disqualify the thrown boule. For a number of years, umpires found these arguments persuasive, although they weren’t often articulated clearly.
The first argument is that the player violated the rules when he committed the foot fault, and the umpire therefore should follow the procedures described in Article 24 for handling boules “thrown contrary to the rules”. This is wrong. The new clause in Article 24 makes it quite clear that the penalties in Article 6, not the advantage rule in Article 24, should be applied in case of a foot fault. And in fact, Article 24 has never given the umpire the right to step in and undo the effects of a boule “thrown contrary to the rules”. The rule has always been that the offended team, not the umpire, may apply the advantage rule.
The second argument is that the player gained an “unfair benefit” from his violation of the rules. An umpire should never allow a player to benefit from violating the rules, so the umpire should undo the effects of the player’s boule. As Mazlan Ahmad puts it—
What if the score stood at 12-12, and then the player shoots with feet outside the circle. He gets the yellow card, but wins the game! He still benefitted from the fault! I have [a rule] embeded in my mind, from reading the article/book “Petanque – a guide to umpiring” (by our Admin, Mike Pegg) and I’m holding fast to it— A FAULT MUST NEVER BENEFIT THE PERSON WHO COMMITTED IT.
The crux of this argument is the idea that if a player commits a foot fault while making a successful throw, his success must be due to the foot fault— committing the foot fault gave him some kind of special benefit. But this is the well-known mistake of confusing proximity in time with causation, the old post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. In fact the idea that (say) stepping on the circle can enable a player to carreau when otherwise he would miss completely, isn’t even remotely plausible. Even in the most extreme cases that one can imagine, the possible benfit of the foot fault is insignificant. In short, it is a myth that committing a foot fault gives a player some kind of benefit. When we accept this fact, the second argument collapses.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The consensus of opinion in the umpiring community is that when a player commits a foot fault, the umpire should follow the provisions of Article 6 and penalize him with one of the standard penalties listed in Article 35. The umpire should NOT change anything about the situation on the ground, no matter how successful or unsuccessful the player’s throw was.