Foot faults – What to do?

When a player or team breaks the rules in some way, we are confronted with two questions.

The first question is the How to Continue Question. “What should the players do, so that they can carry on with the game?” This question has two possible answers. (a) “Undo the illegal event.” (b) “It is not possible to undo the illegal event, so just leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.”

The second question is the Penalty Question. “What penalty, if any, should an umpire impose on the offending player or team?”

In non-umpired games players need to deal only with the How to Continue Question, but in umpired games the umpire must deal with both questions. An umpire must ask himself, “In this case, should I apply a Continue Rule? a Penalty Rule? both?” This can be a tricky question, especially in the case of foot faults, where the Penalty Rules interact with the Continue Rules. This was illustrated in a recent discussion of a question on Ask the Umpire. The question was

A player lifted a foot while throwing. His thrown boule successfully shot away an opponent’s boule. The umpire gave the player a warning (yellow card) but let the situation on the ground remain unchanged. Did the umpire rule correctly?

International umpire Mike Pegg’s answer was NO. Mike’s opinion was that “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.” FPUSA umpire Gary Jones’s answer was YES. “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.”

Gary’s surprising (but I believe correct) answer points out the way that Penalty Rules can interact with Continue Rules. Here is the text of the relevant rules. I have underlined the important clause in Article 24 noted by Gary.

Article 6
The player’s feet… must not leave the circle or be completely lifted off the ground until the thrown boule has touched the ground… Any player not respecting this rule shall incur the penalties specified in Article 35.

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.

In short, Article 24 says

Normally, if a boule is thrown contrary to the rules, the boule is dead and the effects of the thrown boule should be undone, if possible. BUT… if in a particular situation the rules specify the imposition of an Article 35 penalty, impose an appropriate penalty and then leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.

So the umpire’s decision in this case was correct. The umpire gave the player a warning (yellow card) but let the situation on the ground remain unchanged.

This interpretation of Article 24 raises the question of what it means for a boule to be “thrown contrary to the rules”. (Read other posts on this topic.) As far as I can tell, the FIPJP rules contain only two articles that both (a) cover situations in which a boule is thrown contrary to the rules, and (b) specify that the penalties in Article 35 should be applied.

Article 6 covers foot faults. The player’s feet are not entirely inside the circle when throwing, or the player lifts a foot (or touches the ground outside the circle with any part of his body) before the thrown boule hits the ground.
Article 16: The player fails to remove mud from his boule before throwing it.

In these cases an umpire may give the player an appropriate penalty (probably a warning), but the game on the ground should be allowed to remain as it is.


The Penalty Rules haven’t always interacted with the Continue Rules in this way— the underlined clause in Article 24 hasn’t always been there— it was inserted into the rules as part of the 2016 rules revisions. I assume that the FIPJP International Umpires Committee knew the implications of what they were doing, and that they inserted the clause because they wanted what it implied. But old habits die hard for umpires who have been umpiring for many years under the old rules. I expect that different umpires will mentally merge the old and new texts of Article 24 and come up with different ways of interpreting the rule about foot faults. Take Mike Pegg for example.

In the past, Mike Pegg has ruled that if a foot fault gave the player an unfair advantage then BOTH Article 6 AND Article 24 should be applied— the player should be given a warning AND the thrown boule should be declared dead and illegally-moved balls put back. Before the 2016 rules revision this was a reasonable way to interpret the rules, especially in cases where committing a foot fault clearly gave a player some advantage (e.g. a player stands on the side of the circle in order to get a better line of play around a blocking boule). (On the other hand, it opens a can of worms about whether or not a player gained an advantage from a foot fault. Does a player gain any advantage by stepping on the front of the circle? On the back? By lifting a foot?)

The new clause in 2016 changed that. Now Article 24 seems pretty clearly to prohibit applying both Article 6 and Article 24 for a foot fault. Mike Pegg may still apply both of them, but other umpires do not. The umpire whose decision prompted the question on “Ask the Umpire” didn’t. In July 2017, during the final of the Masters de Pétanque at Clermont, an umpire gave Dylan Rocher a yellow card for a foot fault, but he didn’t disqualify Dylan’s thrown boule. So Mike’s interpretation of the rules seems to differ from other umpires.

Mazlan Ahmad has suggested that it might be a good idea to revoke the new clause. “Without that clause, enforcement of Article 24 for all foot-fault infractions becomes mandatory— just like the days before the 2016 rules revision.” We’ll have to wait for the next revision of the FIPJP rules to see if the international umpires agree with him.

Note that Dylan’s right foot is lifed completely off of the ground and outside the circle. The thrown boule is still too high in the air to be seen in this picture. See THIS or THIS.


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Moving a boule while measuring

Here is a Frequently Asked Question about moving a boule during measuring.

Article 28 of the 2016 version of the FIPJP rules says:

The point is lost by a team if one of its players, while making a measurement, displaces the jack or one of the contested boules.

Here is a typical situation that raises questions about this rule:

Boules A1 and B1 are “contested boules”, that is, they appear to be about the same distance from the jack and it is not clear which one of them holds the point. While measuring, Albert (from team A) accidentally bumps boule B1 a few millimeters farther away from the jack. So (per Article 28, because Team A moved a boule while measuring) Team A loses the point. Boule A1 loses the point, boule B1 has the point, and Team A plays the next boule.

During the agreement of points, Team A starts to use the normal point-counting procedure. The relative positions of A1 and B1 have not changed. A1 is closer to the jack than B1, so Team A naturally says that A1 beats B1. Team B disagrees, arguing that A1 earlier lost the point to B1. What is the correct ruling?

In a reply to this question on Ask the Umpire, Mike Pegg has ruled that as long as none of the involved balls (jack, A1, B1) has been moved, when points are counted A1 cannot be counted as beating B1. In other places he has ruled that A1 does not count in a measure for points as long as neither the jack nor A1 has been moved during play. The bottom line is that Team B is correct— when points are counted, A1 must still be considered farther away from the jack than B1.


Accidentally moving a ball while measuring is an illegal event. An “illegal event” is an event that is not possible within the rules of the game, but that is physically possible and actually occurs in real life. (In chess, for instance, accidentally upsetting the board is not a legal move, but sometimes it happens.) The ideal response to an illegal event is to undo it: to put everything back where it was before the illegal event occurred. In petanque, this would mean that the two teams would agree on how to put the illegally-moved things back. (This is the philosophy of Petanque Libre.)

When nothing is marked, an FIPJP umpire must rule that everything should be left where it is. Interestingly, Mike Pegg has suggested that it is possible for the two teams to agree to undo an illegal event even in a game supervised by FIPJP umpires. If an unmarked boule is moved accidentally, he says, agree with your opponent to replace the boule. “Do not call the umpire because if you do he or she will say the boule must remain where it is.”


Read other posts in the Putting Things Back category


Putting things back

One of the problems with the FIPJP rules document is that it mixes together in one document material that properly belongs in three different documents— rules of the game, administrative procedures, and guidelines for umpires. In particular, mixing guidelines for umpires with rules of the game blurs the difference between the two. The rules about “putting things back” are a good illustration of this problem.

There are a variety of ways in which a ball (boule or jack) can be moved illegally during a game. When a ball is illegally moved, players then confront the question of whether they should leave it where it is, or put it back in its original location.

putting_back_a_petanque_boule

Here is what the FIPJP rules say.

Article 12 – Jack masked or displaced … To avoid all disagreement, the players must mark the position of the jack. No claim will be accepted [by an umpire] regarding unmarked boules or an unmarked jack.

Article 22 – Displaced boules … To avoid all disagreement, the players must mark the boules. No claim will be admissible [by an umpire] for an unmarked boule, and the umpire will make his decision based only on the locations of the boules on the terrain.

Basically, this boils down to a set of guidelines for umpires and a separate set of guidelines (advice, really) for players.

Guidelines for Umpires
When making a decision concerning an illegally-moved ball (boule or jack) an umpire will ignore any claim by players about the original location of the ball if that original location is not marked, and will make his decision based only on the current locations of the balls on the terrain.

Guidelines for Players
An umpire will ignore any claim that you might make about the original location of a ball if that original location is not marked. Therefore, the only way that you can be sure that an umpire will return an illegally-moved ball to its original location is (a) always to mark the current location of every ball on the terrain, and (b) always to create new marks and erase old marks whenever any of the balls is moved.

These guidelines generate a lot of discussion on online petanque forums. What I want to emphasize in this post is that players are not bound by the guidelines for umpires. If you are a player in a social game where there is no umpire, the guidelines for umpires are irrelevant. You and your fellow players are free to restore an illegally-moved ball (say, a jack accidentally moved during measurement) to its original location and carry on with your game. (Here, “its original location” means in effect “a location agreeable to both teams”. This is an important feature of the rules of Petanque Libre, which are specifically designed for games where there is no umpire.)

Even if you are playing in an umpired game you are NOT required to call in an umpire if a ball is moved illegally. Without calling in an umpire, the two teams are free to restore an illegally-moved ball to its original location and carry on with their game.

Read other posts in the Putting Things Back category


Marking the locations of balls

In petanque, there are only a few things that can legally move a boule or jack. It can be thrown by a player. It can fall onto the terrain and bounce or roll. It can hit or be hit by another ball in the game. And that’s about it. On the other hand, there are a lot of non-legal things that can move a ball. The wind. The shoe of any human being. A zombie boule bouncing back onto the terrain. A child or an animal or a football crossing the terrain. Being thrown “contrary to the rules”. In such non-legal events, the default course of action is to leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.

The FIPJP rules mention another option— to put the ball back in its original location if that original location was marked. Some players take the repeated references to marking the balls as an indication that they should always mark the locations of everything. That’s nonsense.

  • In normal play nobody does it.  On Youtube you will not find a single petanque video in which the players routinely mark even the jack.  (Marking the location of the thrown jack is an old custom, but one that faded a long time ago.)
  • It would slow down the game tremendously while offering very little in real benefits. That’s why nobody does it.
  • Marking everything is a terrible idea.  There were enough problems with circles drawn on the ground, back before plastic circles appeared in 2005. If you tried to mark the location of every ball all of the time (including erasing and creating new marks when a ball is hit and moved) there would be so many marks on the ground that, if you wanted to return a moved boule to its original location, you wouldn’t be able to find that location in the crowd of marks on the ground.  To control the mess, you’d need to sweep the terrain after every mene.

So always marking the locations of balls is a bad idea. On the other hand, the wise player will mark the locations of balls when there is an increased likelihood that they might be moved illegally.

  • On a windy day: mark the jack in case it might be moved by the wind.
  • If another game moves into a position where its boules might come onto your terrain: mark the locations of your balls.  
  • If the jack is located close to a wooden sideboard: mark the location of the jack and close-by boules. That way, if a thrown boule hits the sideboard, bounces back in-bounds, and illegally moves something, you can put the illegally-moved balls back.

So if you’re out playing with your friends, and nothing is marked, and a ball is moved in some non-legal fashion, you have two options. The first is simply to leave everything where it is and carry on. The second (sometimes) is to put it back.

Read other posts in the Putting Things Back category

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