Rules governing the jack (cochonnet, bouchon)

As of September 2018, the FIPJP rules governing the petanque jack (the little target ball, cochonnet, bouchon) are as follows. We will discuss synthetic and paramagnetic jacks later in this post.

  1. The jack must be made of wood.
  2. The jack must be 30mm, +/- 1mm in diameter.
  3. The jack must weigh between 10g and 18g.
  4. The jack may be unpainted or painted any color.
  5. A painted jack may not be painted with paramagnetic paint.

Table of Contents

  1. Documents containing the rules governing jacks
  2. A short history of changes to the rules governing jacks
  3. Synthetic jacks
  4. Paramagnetic jacks
  5. The weight of jacks
  6. The future of jacks

Documents containing the rules governing jacks

The FIPJP specifications for jacks are contained in two documents. The first is the official FIPJP international rules for the sport of petanque. The second is Fabricants de Boules: Labels des Boules et Buts agréés en compétition. It is a list of certified manufacturers, boules, and synthetic jacks.

A short history of changes to the rules governing jacks

This section contains a brief summary of historical changes to the rules governing jacks. For more detailed historical information see Footnote 1.

In the 1960’s, jacks made of metal were prohibited. In 1970 the prohibition on metal jacks was replaced by a requirement that jacks be made exclusively of wood. In 2002, jacks were also permitted to be made of synthetic material (i.e. plastic, epoxy resin).

Jacks were originally unpainted wood. In 1979, jacks were permitted to be painted white, and in 1984 jacks were permitted to be painted any color.

The official size of the jack was originally set at 25mm to 35mm in diameter. In 2008 the size was set at exactly 30mm (+/- 1mm), which put an end to big variations in the size of the jack.

Paramagnetic jacks were prohibited (for the first time) in the 2008 version of the FIPJP rules. “Painted jacks are permitted, but must not be able to be picked up with a magnet.” Nobody really knows the reason for the prohibition.

Traditionally, jacks are made of wood— usually boxwood root (buis) or beechwood (hetre), but the rules do not require any particular type of wood. Differences in wood, when combined with differences in size, meant that a wide variation in the weight of the jack was permitted. In 2016 the weight of a jack was specified as 10-18g, which retroactively prohibited all synthetic jacks then on the market. (A jack made of beechwood weighs about 9-10g. A jack made of boxwood weighs about 14-15g. A jack made of epoxy resin weighs 22g.)

Synthetic jacks

VMS_tortue_bouleIn 1996 VMS, a boutique manufacturer of petanque boules, introduced its distinctive tortue (“tortoise”) boules, designed to resemble the old wooden “nailed” boules (boules cloutées). At the same time, as a marketing gimmick, VMS brought out a new line of colorful epoxy resin jacks. The design of the resin jacks, like the design of the new boules, was meant to suggest the appearance of the old nailed boules.

clearing_the_circle_02According to Mike Pegg—
These resin jacks were produced back in 1996 for the launch of the new “VMS” boule which was about the same time as the World Champs in Essen, Germany. The company gave a free resin jack with each set they sold. Soon afterwards the jacks became available to purchase and of course, as is the way with these things, the market was flooded with resin jacks. Instead of banning them the FIPJP decided to approve them … but sadly without any real investigation.

The VMS resin jacks were approved by the FIPJP in 2002. (Les buts sont en bois, ou en matiére synthétique portant le label du fabricant et ayant fait l’objet d’une homologation de la F.I.P.J.P….) As soon as people started using the synthetic jacks, they started having problems with them. The epoxy resin material is very hard (like a billiard ball or a bowling ball) and very heavy. If a synthetic jack is hit by a boule, it is going to fly farther and faster than a wooden jack, and it is going to hurt more if hits somebody. Almost immediately, many national organizations, including the FPUSA and the English Petanque Association, banned the resin jacks. As English international umpire Mike Pegg wrote—

The issue we and other nations have with the resin jack is two-fold.

  1. They are far more dense (they don’t even float) than a wooden jack, causing more injury if you get hit by one.
  2. When they break (hit by a boule for example) they shatter into pieces which can be sharp.

There are a number of reported incidents where players have been hit on the arm causing a severe bruise. More worrying was a player hit in the face near his eye receiving a nasty cut. Our insurers advised us as we know these jacks can cause an injury we could negate our policy cover if we allowed them to be used.

For a bit more information about synthetic jacks, see THIS POST.
This might seem to be the end of the story for synthetic jacks, but it isn’t. That story has at least two more chapters. One is about “magnetic” jacks, and the other is about the weight of the jack.

Paramagnetic jacks

The January 2013 Obut catalog listed a new product— Obut’s “black jack”. The new black jacks (buts noirs) were ramassables par aimant — could be picked up by a magnet.

At the same time the FIPJP list of approved manufacturers, boules, and jacks was updated to list the new black jack as one of the approved synthetic jacks, and the specification that “Painted jacks are permitted, but must not be able to be picked up with a magnet” was copied from the FIPJP rules of petanque to the list of approved jacks. obut_magnetic_jacks_approval

This caused a lot of confusion among players and umpires because the rules said that “painted jacks are permitted, but must not be able to be picked up with a magnet.” How could the FIPJP now approve a “magnetic” jack?!

Contributing to the confusion among English-speaking players was the word “magnetic”. A material is magnetic if it carries a persistent magnetic field. A material is paramagnetic if it does not carry a magnetic field itself, but is attracted by an externally applied magnetic field. Iron and steel items like nuts and bolts are paramagnetic— they aren’t magnets, but they can be picked up with magnets. An Obut black jack contains iron oxide particles embedded in the synthetic material. That means that a black jack is not magnetic but it is paramagnetic — it is not a magnet but it can be picked up by a magnet. Il n’est pas aimanté, il peut-être aimanté.

The official FIPJP position is that the rule says only that PAINTED jacks may not be paramagnetic— it says nothing about UNPAINTED jacks. So synthetic paramagnetic jacks are permitted because they are not painted. This is of course absurd, and when it was announced it was met with disapproval and ridicule. As Eli Nielsen wrote on the “Ask the Umpire” Facebook group: Do you really believe, that those who wrote the rules meant, that only painted jacks were not to be picked up with a magnet, but any other jack could legally be picked up with a magnet? What is the point? A few people noted that paramagnetic jacks might be helpful to handicapped players who use magnetic boule lifters. Several commenters opined that the approval showed that Obut, not the FIPJP, really writes the rules.

In the hubbub over paramagnetic jacks, nobody ever provided a good answer to the question “Why were paramagnetic jacks forbidden in the first place?”

One theory is that the rule was really a way to prohibit metal jacks. That theory doesn’t hold water. Metal jacks were already prohibited (the rules required jacks to be made of wood or plastic). And prohibiting paramagnetic jacks doesn’t prohibit metal jacks— a metal jack can be made of a non-paramagnetic metal such as bronze or aluminum.

boule_lifter_magnetic_obut_telescopicAnother theory is that some players use their telescoping magnetic boule lifters as measuring devices, and the FIPJP umpires were clairvoyant— they foresaw the future development of paramagnetic jacks and were concerned that paramagnetic jacks would interfere with this practice. This is absurd. First: the FIPJP umpires aren’t clairvoyant. Second: they don’t care at all about old duffers using boule lifters as measuring devices. Third: if they were concerned about this supposed problem, they would probably revise the rules to forbid players from using magnetic boule lifters to measure, just as the rules currently forbid players from using their feet to measure.

Another theory is that if the jack was paramagnetic, then a player could cheat by placing a magnet in his shoe and surreptitiously moving the jack with his foot. That is just silly. Having a magnet in your shoe would make it harder, not easier, to cheat by moving the jack with your foot. The jack would stick to your shoe.

I suspect that there never was a good reason to forbid paramagnetic jacks. Somebody probably raised a question at one of the umpires’ meetings, and the umpires impulsively banned paramagnetic jacks without really understanding the physics of magnetism but harboring a vague fear that a paramagnetic jack might somehow lead to problems.

The weight of jacks

On February 7, 2014 a seminar for international umpires was convened in Tolouse. It was attended by Claude Azéma, President of the FIPJP, as well as the presidents of both the FIPJP Umpires Committees and the FFPJP Umpires Committees. According to the minutes of that meeting—

The President [of the FIPJP, Claude Azéma] first explained why the Obut jack, which could be picked up with a magnet, had been approved. In fact, the wording and effect of the relevant sentence of article 3, which says that jacks should not be capable of being picked up by a magnet, concerns only painted jacks. The Obut jack is not painted but dyed in bulk. In any case, as it only contains a few oxide particles, there is no risk of electrolysis. [The reference to a "risk of electrolysis" makes no sense. It may reflect a confused understanding of the fact that ferrites are electrically nonconductive.]

Then the discussion turned to the weight of the jack.

A number of umpires drew attention to the danger of jacks that were too heavy. The President [Azéma] also raised the problems posed by jacks that were too light, in terms both of throwing them and of their behavior, which had led the FIPJP to impose wooden jacks at the world championships. It will therefore be proposed to state in the regulations that jacks, whatever they are made of, must weigh between 10 and 18 grams, and that this restriction can be retroactive for synthetic jacks that have already been approved. That would be added to the rules of play and to the manufacturing specification.

In the past the only real stimulus for changes to the FIPJP rules has been problems that international umpires personally experienced at the world championships. The umpires had not personally experienced problems with paramagnetic jacks, but they had experienced problems with jacks that were too heavy or too light. The result? The 2016 rules revision required for the first time that jacks must have a specific weight— 10-18g. A (perhaps intended) side-effect of the new rule was that all currently-approved synthetic jacks, including Obut’s paramagnetic black jack, ended up being banned because they were too heavy!

The future of jacks

It is inevitable that better synthetic jacks will be developed in the future, and that they will be certified by the FIPJP for use in competitions. When that happens, synthetic jacks will will be cheaper, more durable, and more consistent in size and weight than wooden jacks. They will replace wooden jacks, just as metal boules replaced the old wooden nailed boules. We already have a promising candidate. Decathlon’s Geologic “recreational” jacks, although they are rather small and light (29mm diameter and 11g weight), meet the FIPJP requirements for size and weight. Decathlon could make them a bit larger, a bit heavier, and request FIPJP certification. They’d easily have the competition jack of the future. If they don’t do it, I’m sure that someone else will.



1957 and 1962
Jacks are made of wood. Their diameter should be between 25mm (minimum) and 35mm (maximum).
Les buts seront en bois. Leur diamètre doit être compris entre 25 mm (minimum) et 35 mm (maximum).
1959 and 1964
Jacks are made of wood. (Jacks made of metal are officially forbidden.)
Les buts seront en bois. (Les buts métalliques sont formellement interdits.)
Jacks are made exclusively of wood. Wooden jacks that are painted white are permitted.
Les buts sont exclusivement en bois. Les buts en bois peints en blanc sont autorisés.
Jacks are made exclusively of wood. Wooden jacks that are painted (whatever the color) that permit better visibility on the terrain are permitted.
Les buts sont exclusivement en bois. Les buts en bois peints (quelle que soit la couleur) permettant une meilleure visibilité sur le terrain sont autorisés.
Jacks are made exclusively of wood. Jacks that are painted – whatever the color – are permitted.
Les buts sont exclusivement en bois. Les buts peints – quelle que soit la couleur – sont autorisés.
Jacks are made of wood, or of a synthetic material bearing the manufacturer’s trademark and having obtained the FIPJP’s approval in line with the precise specification relating to the required standards. Jacks that are painted – whatever the color – are permitted.
Les buts sont en bois, ou en matiére synthétique portant le label du fabricant et ayant fait l’objet d’une homologation de la F.I.P.J.P. en application du cahier des charges spécifique relatif aux normes requises. Les buts peints – quelle que soit la couleur – sont autorisés.
[The list of approved boules and manufacturers was modified so that a synthetic jack manufactured by the company VMS was licensed.]
Les buts portant le label “VMS” sont agréés.
Jacks are made of wood, or of a synthetic material … Their diameter must be 30mm (+/- 1mm). Painted jacks are permitted, but must not be able to be picked up with a magnet.
Les buts sont en bois, ou en matière synthétique … Leur diamètre doit être de 30mm (tolérance: + ou – 1mm). Les buts peints sont autorisés, mais ne doivent pas pouvoir être ramassés avec un aimant.
[The list of approved boules and manufacturers was modified so that Obut’s synthetic black jack was licensed.]
But Noir marquage OBUT – OBUT en relief. But déclinable en plusieurs coloris marquage – OBUT en relief.
Their weight must be between 10 and 18 grams.
Leur poids doit être compris entre 10 et 18 grammes.

A vendor in France.  Photo courtesy of Arsene Dupin of the Heart of Texas Petanque Club.

A vendor in France. Photo courtesy of Arsene Dupin of the Heart of Texas Petanque Club.

Finally, here is a curious object that I found on the Educanaute-Infos web site, in a post dated November 2013 — a jack filled with metal washers (rondelles). I have no idea who made it, or why. Perhaps some arthritic player wanted a jack that he could pick up with his magnetic boule lifter.


The CNA comments on Article 35

About this time last year, after the FIPJP released the December 2016 revisions to the international rules of petanque, Mike Pegg’s “Ask the Umpire” group on Facebook lit up like a Christmas tree with question after question about the changes. (Alas, most of those posts have been deleted.) Many of the questions were about the changes to Article 35, which introduced something new into the rules, the notion of a collective penalty.

About the same time, the CNA (the French National Umpires Committee) issued some comments on Article 35 and Article 6. The comments were in French and seem to have been available to affiliates of the FFPJP, but they weren’t readily accessible to English-speaking players. Now, the first anniversary of their release, seems a good occasion to rectify that.

The CNA’s comments reflect confusions that one sees in Article 35 itself— about the difference between an infraction of the rules, a penalty, and a colored card, and about where to distinguish the “individual” from the “collective”. That’s not surprising— it was probably the CNA that wrote the changes to Article 35.

My English translation is loose but I think accurate. The original French documents can be found in several places on the web— on the FFPJP website as well as HERE and HERE. You can download a document with side-by-side French and English text HERE (docx) or HERE (pdf).

Decisions of the FIPJP National Umpires Committee
28 and 29 January 2017 in Marseille

Article 35
Different cases concerning exceeding the time during the course of a single game.

The following examples are for a team composed of three players A, B and C.

Case 1
No player has been given a yellow card.
Player A exceeds the time.
There is a collective yellow card (one for Player A, one for player B and one for player C).

Case 2
After [a team has received] a collective yellow card,
[a player commits some kind of infraction of the rules].
For a player who commits an infraction of the rules (whatever the infraction) the next boule played or about to be played is disqualified and the player is shown an orange card.

Case 3
After [a team has received] a collective yellow card,
player B exceeds the time. (So this is the second collective infraction for the team.)
In this specific case, the offending player (B) has a boule disqualified and receives an orange card. But his partners do not receive an orange card and do not have any boules disqualified because there is no collective orange card.

Case 4
Only player C has received a yellow card for an infraction other than exceeding the time (e.g. encroaching on the circle, sweeping, etc.)
Player B exceeds the time.
A and B receive a yellow card
C has a boule disqualified, but does not receive an orange card (he is not the one who committed this new infraction). (Note that an orange card can be given only to the direct author of an infraction.)

Case 5
Player A and player B have each received an individual yellow card for an infraction other than exceeding the time.
Player C exceeds the time.
Players A and B each have a boule disqualified, but they do not receive an orange card. (Note that an orange card can be given only to the direct author of an infraction.) Player C receives a yellow card.

Case 6
Players A, B and C have each received a yellow card for individual infractions.
The time is exceeded.
Three boules are disqualified (one per player) and the player who exceeded the time receives an orange card.

– Always make sure of who made the mistake.
– Know which players of the team have already been sanctioned during the game.
– Distinguish between a collective infraction (time exceeded) and an individual infraction.
– Remember that there is no collective orange card.

Article 6
Concerning the throw of an invalid jack

After an invalid throw of the jack, the opposing team places the jack by hand.

It is forbidden to push the jack with the feet. The first time a player does this he will be given a verbal warning. For subsequent infractions, a penalty will be awarded.

This team [that places the jack by hand] should place the jack in conformity with the rules of the game. If the jack is not placed on the terrain in conformity with the rules, the umpire asks the team that placed it to place it in conformity with the rules. The jack is not given back to the team that threw it.

If a team loses the throw of the jack (because it wasn’t successful in throwing a valid jack) and the jack is moved by the first boule, the opposing team, which placed the jack, may not challenge the jack’s new location, regardless of whether or not the jack’s original location was marked.

What is an obstacle?

The FIPJP rules use many terms without defining them. The worst offender in this regard is the word “obstacle”. “What is an obstacle?” is probably the most-frequently-asked question about the rules. So… What is an obstacle?

In the FIPJP rules, “obstacle” is not a technical term. It is an ordinary word that means, roughly, “something that interferes with the normal course of some activity or process.” The relevant activity or process must be inferred from the context. The context differs from rule to rule.

  • In Article 10, an “obstacle” is any natural feature of the terrain that might make pointing difficult. Article 10 says that even though a player might want to pick up or push down an “obstacle” like a stone or a hump in the ground, or tamp down some soft earth, he is not allowed to do so.
  • In Article 19, an “obstacle” is anything that causes a boule to bounce back in-bounds after it has gone out-of-bounds.
  • In Article 25, an “obstacle” is something on the terrain (a big rock, a tree root) that gets in the way of measurement.

The two important uses of the term “obstacle” are…

throwing obstacles
Both Article 6 (on placing the circle) and Article 7 (on throwing the jack) say that the throwing circle must be at least one meter from any “obstacle” and at least 2 meters from another throwing circle in use. The purpose of these rules is to move the circle away from throwing obstacles— features of the playing area that might interfere with a player’s normal throwing form. The most common kind of throwing obstacle are objects that might interfere with a player’s backswing. Trees, telephone poles, trash receptacles, walls, and crowd-control barriers count as throwing obstacles if they are too close to the circle. The category of “throwing obstacles” also includes features of the terrain that might interfere with a player’s footing. A patch of ground that is too irregular for a player to stand with a solid footing, a patch of slippery mud, a puddle of rainwater— all of these count as throwing obstacles.

pointing obstacles
Article 7 (on throwing the jack) also says that the thrown jack must be a minimum of 1 meter from any “obstacle” and from any dead-ball line. This rule is designed to insure that there is at least one meter of clear space around the thrown jack, so that it is possible for a player to point a boule anywhere within a meter of the jack. Here, pointing obstacles are things such as walls or buildings on the terrain that infringe on the clear space around the thrown jack. The dead-ball line is in effect a pointing obstacle, which is why Article 7 says that the thrown jack must be at least a meter from any dead-ball line.

There are a number of questions about “obstacles” that are frequently asked.

Is a wooden surround a throwing obstacle? It might interfere with the backswing of a squat pointer.
Mike Pegg has ruled that a wooden surround is NOT a throwing obstacle for a squat pointer, because the player can always stand (rather than squat) when pointing. I think, however, that (depending on the circumstances) another umpire might reasonably rule that players should be able safely to use their normal throwing form, whatever that form might be, and that a wooden surround can be considered a throwing obstacle if a squat pointer expresses concerns at the time that the circle is being placed. The primary goal here is to allow players to throw normally, and to do so without fear of injury.

Are tree trunks considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?

Are tree roots considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
Generally speaking: NO. They are considered to be features of the terrain, like rocks.

Article 19 says that a boule is dead if it goes out-of-bounds, hits an “obstacle”, and then comes back on to the terrain. Are things ABOVE the ground “obstacles”? If a thrown (or hit) boule or jack hits something ABOVE the terrain, is it dead?
The answer is NO, it is not dead. The relevant question here has nothing to do with what is considered to be an obstacle— it is: “Are objects above the terrain out-of-bounds?” And the answer to that question is NO. Think of the dead-ball lines as imaginary invisible walls that the visible dead-ball lines project vertically into the sky. Any object that is directly above the terrain— any object that is inside the invisible dead-ball walls— is in-bounds. That means that if a boule or a jack hits an overhanging tree branch, a low-hanging light fixture, or a boulodrome ceiling, and drops down onto the terrain without going through one of those invisible walls, it is still alive. (Local or tournament rules may over-ride this general rule of course.) Here is an outdoor boulodrome in Seaside, Florida. Note the low-hanging light fixtures. Most of the light fixtures are in-bounds and are therefore normal features of the terrain, just as rocks on the terrain are normal features of the terrain.


An alternate set of rules for friendly games of petanque

The FIPJP rules of petanque are designed for use in FIPJP-sanctioned competitions supervised by FIPJP-certified umpires. In addition to being unclear and sometimes unfair when strictly interpreted, the FIPJP rules are dependent on the presence of an umpire to the extent that, under some circumstance, they are useless in friendly games. By “friendly games” I mean games played outside of an organized competition, without an umpire.

In response to these problems, the Petanque Libre Project has developed an alternate set of rules for the game of petanque. The Petanque Libre rules are designed with friendly games in mind; they are designed so that ordinary players can understand, interpret, and apply them in games played outside of an organized competition, without an umpire.

You can read more about the project, and download a copy of the rules for Petanque Libre, at the Petanque Libre Project website. The project has also issued a Request for Comments on the rules.

2016 petanque rules changes

Here is a list of the important changes to the rules of petanque made by the FIPJP in 2016. The 2016 FIPJP rules of petanque are available on the FIPJP web site and the Rules of Petanque web site.

  1. Article 10a has been renamed to be Article 11, and all subsequent articles renumbered. So the rules now have 41 articles, rather than 40.
  2. Article 3: The weight of the jack must be between 10 and 18 grams. (This means that synthetic jacks, which weigh 22g, are no longer permitted.)
  3. Article 5: The opening sentence has been changed from “Petanque is played on all terrains,” to “Petanque is played on all surfaces.”
  4. Article 6: Folding circles (cercles pliables) are permitted but only if they are of a model and rigidity approved by the FIPJP. (Folding circles that are approved by the FIPJP will be marked “Agréé FIPJP”.)
  5. Article 6: The throwing circle must be marked before the jack is thrown.
  6. Article 6: If a player picks up the circle when there are boules still to be played, the circle is replaced but only the opponents are allowed to play their boules.
  7. Article 7: The team winning the toss or the previous end will have ONE and only one attempt to throw a valid jack. If the thrown jack is not valid, the jack is given to the opposing team which then places the jack in any valid location on the designated terrain.
  8. Article 7: The throwing circle must now be placed at least two meters from any other active circle.
  9. Article 7: During time-limited games only, for a thrown jack, the required minimum distance from a SIDE dead-ball line (not from an END dead-ball line) is reduced to 50cm.
  10. Article 8 contains the following sentence: “Before the jack is given to the opposing team for them to place it, both teams must have recognized that the throw was not valid or the Umpire must have decided it to be so. If any team proceeds differently, it loses the right to throw the jack.” The words have not changed, but the second sentence must be given a new interpretation in light of the changes to the rules for the throw of the jack.

    If Team A throws a jack that appears to Team B to be long, and Team B picks the jack up before Team A agrees that it actually was long, an umpire may rule that Team B has lost the right to place the jack, and give the jack to Team A, which will then place (not throw) it. It is likely that the second sentence will be revised in the next version of the rules.

  11. Article 10: “Sweeping” (the ground with a foot) in front of a boule to be shot is now specifically mentioned as a violation of the rule against changing the terrain. (This is a clarification of, rather than a change to, the existing rule.)
  12. Article 24: The following clause was inserted before the beginning of the rule: “Except for cases in which these rules provide specific and graduated penalties as outlined in Article 35,…” [DISCUSS]
  13. Article 26: Players must stand at least two meters away from an umpire while he is measuring.
  14. Article 27: If a player picks up his boules from the playing area while his partners have boules remaining, they will not be allowed to play them. [DISCUSS]
  15. Article 31: It is now no longer the responsibility of each team to check and verify the opposing team’s licenses, boules, qualifications to play in the competition, etc.
  16. Article 33: A mene is considered to start when the jack is thrown, regardless of whether or not the throw was valid.
  17. Article 35: In order to simplify the penalties, the penalty of disqualification of TWO boules has been eliminated.
  18. Article 35: The rules now officially recognize the use of colored signal cards.
  19. Article 35: The discussion of warnings has two new provisions. (1) A yellow card for exceeding the time limit will be imposed on ALL of the players of the offending team. (2) If one of these players has already been given a yellow card, that player will be penalised by disqualification of a boule.

    These new provisions are poorly written and it will probably be some time before umpires agree on how to interpret them. One likely outcome is this— In the past, umpires usually treated a time-violation as an individual offense. Thus, if player A on Team T exceeded the time limit, the umpire would give A a warning. Later, if player B on Team T exceeded the time limit, the umpire would give B a warning. Now, with these new provisions, it seems likely that if player A on Team T exceeds the time limit, the umpire will give Team T a warning. Later, if player B on Team T exceeds the time limit, the umpire will penalize Team T by disqualifying one of the team’s boules.

  20. Article 39: Correct dress is required of the players, specifically: (a) it is forbidden to play without a top (i.e. with a bare torso) and (b) for safety reasons, the players must wear fully enclosed shoes. In addition, it is forbidden to smoke (or use an e-cigarette) and to use a mobile phone during a game.

American players should note that the FPUSA rules have changed in another way.
Following a new policy, the FPUSA has adopted the 2016 international rules “as written” as its national rules.

Adopting the international rules “as written” means doing away with the italicized modifications and addendums added to the FPUSA version over the years. Doing so also means our players will learn to play per the international rules, nothing more, nothing less. [Mike] Pegg’s advice to the FPUSA is to publish the rules as adopted in December 2016 by the FIPJP and separately publish clarification for the more ambiguous and broadly interpreted aspects of the rules or for issues unique to the FPUSA. We agree with Mike and are already in the process of updating the “2015 Interpretation’s” currently in use by the federation.

Previous versions of the FPUSA rules also differed from the FIPJP rules in the wording of the Puddle Rule in Article 9. With the adoption of the FIPJP rules “as written”, that difference no longer exists.

Disqualifying a boule & excluding a player

What does it mean to “disqualify a boule”?

Depending on the context, “disqualifying a boule” can mean one of two quite different things. The key to recognizing the two contexts lies in the expression “disqualification of the boule played or to be played.”

The first context is one where we want to disqualify a boule that has already been played. Suppose, for instance, that a player has already received one warning for a foot fault— for standing on the circle while throwing. Now, the umpire is watching him closely. Again, the player stands on the circle while throwing his boule. The umpire shows an orange card and tells the player that the boule that he has just thrown is disqualified because of his repeated foot fault. In that context, we can point to a specific boule and say “THAT is the boule to be disqualified.” That specific boule is declared dead and removed from the terrain.

The second context is one where we want to disqualify a boule that has not yet been played. Suppose, for instance, that a team has already received one warning for violating the 1-minute rule. Now they are standing around and discussing strategy. Their discussion takes more than one minute. The umpire approaches the team and informs them that one of the team’s boules is now disqualified because of the team’s second infraction of the 1-minute rule. But… which boule should be disqualified? Suppose that the team has 4 unplayed boules. How does the umpire pick out which boule he is going to point to and say “THAT is the boule to be disqualified”?

The answer is that he doesn’t. In this situation, “disqualifying a boule” doesn’t mean picking out a particular boule for disqualification. It means reducing the number of boules that the penalized team (or player) is allowed to throw in the future. As Mike Pegg said during an exchange on “Ask the Umpire”—

If the team has 4 boules and are then advised that 1 boule is disqualified, they then have 3 boules.

They may have 4 unplayed boules in hand, but since one of those boules has been disqualified, they are now allowed to throw only three boules. Which boules they choose to throw is up to them. If the penalized team has no more boules to throw, the number of boules that they can throw in the next mene is reduced.
As Article 35 says—

If one of these players has already been given a yellow card, he will be penalized by disqualification of a boule during the mene in progress or for the following mene if he has no more boules to play.

Excluding a player

After disqualifying a boule, the next level of penalty is the exclusion of a player from the rest of the game. The procedures for excluding a player are similar to the procedures for disqualifying a boule.

On the one hand, the umpire may walk up to a specific player and say, “YOU are excluded from the rest of the game.” On the other hand, the umpire may walk up to the captain of a triples team and say, “For the rest of the game, starting with the next mene, your team is allowed to play with only two players.” Note that excluding a player means reducing the number of players, and playable boules, available to the team. If a member of a triples team is excluded, the team’s fourth member (its alternate/substitute/backup player) cannot take his place. The team must soldier on with only two players and 4 boules.

Closeup of a petanque boule disqualified in the previous mene.

Closeup of a petanque boule disqualified in the previous mene.

Deliberately picking up your own boule

In the 2016 revision of the FIPJP rules, a third paragraph was added to the text of Article 27. The article in its entirety now reads:

Article 27 – Picked-up boules
It is forbidden for players to pick up played boules before the end of the mene.
At the end of a mene, any boule picked up before the agreement of points is dead. No claim is admissible on this subject.
▶If a player picks up his boules from the game terrain while his partners have boules remaining, they will not be allowed to play them.◀

Paragraph 3 was a good idea. Before it was added, what the article implicitly said was——

If a player (deliberately) picks up one of his own boules, the boule is dead and the player receives (only) a warning.

The idea that a player would want deliberately to remove one of his own boules might seem strange. But it isn’t, really. Suppose, for instance, that you are playing on team B when one of the following situations arises.

  1. Team A has thrown all of their boules, while your team still has four boules to play. The front is completely open, just waiting for you to point those four boules in and score four points, EXCEPT… one of your own boules, B1, is in the way. It is sitting exactly on the ideal donnée for your pointing throws. It is a great blocking boule, but now it is blocking you rather than the opponents.
  2. Your team has one point one the ground. If you could shoot away opposing boule A1, your team could score four points. But boule B1, one of your own boules, is right behind A1, kissing it. You’re familiar with Newton’s cradle and you know the physics of this kind of situation. If you shoot A1, B1 will go flying and A1 will hardly move.


In both of these situations (and there are others like them) it would be to your advantage if you could pick up your own boule and remove it. In some circumstances, it might be worth doing even if you got a warning from the umpire for doing it. In social games played without an umpire, you wouldn’t even get a warning. Soon, perhaps, the idea would spread that picking up one of your own boules was a recognized and acceptable part of the game.

The addition of paragraph 3 to the text of Article 27 fixes that. Don’t think of paragraph 3 as specifying a punishment for picking up your own boule. Rather, think of it as eliminating the possibility of gaining any advantage at all from deliberately picking up one of your own boules.

Paragraph 3, like many other rules, has the potential to cause problems for umpires. Imagine a situation like our first example in which B1, one of team B’s own boules, has become a nasty blocking boule for team B. Ben, the captain of team B, walks up to the boule to inspect the situation. He sees a hole in the terrain not far from the boule. He starts using one foot to scrape dirt toward the hole when— suddenly— he loses his balance. Swinging arms and legs wildly in an attempt to regain his balance, he accidentally kicks B1, knocking it a meter away.

Now the umpire has a problem. He must decide whether Ben’s action was or was not a genuine accident. If it was an accident, B1 stays where Ben kicked it (because its location wasn’t marked). But if Ben deliberately moved B1 (which in this case is tantamount to picking it up from the terrain) the boule is dead, and so are all of team B’s remaining unplayed boules. Rules about players doing something accidentally (or deliberately) inevitably raise the old, old question— “How can we know whether he did it accidentally or deliberately?” That’s the problem that this rule potentially poses for umpires.

This post is an excerpt from the next edition of A Guide to the Rules of Petanque, now in preparation.