Questions about what a player is or is not permitted to do in order to fill a hole became more complicated with the release of the 2016 version of the rules. In the previous (2010) version of the rules, the last sentence of Article 10 was—

For non-observation of the rules above, the players incur the penalties outlined in Article 34 “Discipline”.

In the new (2016) version of the rules, the last sentence of Article 10 became this. Note that the underlining is mine.

For not complying with this rule, especially in the case of sweeping in front of a boule to be shot, the offending player incurs the penalties specified in Article 35.

What the new rule says, basically, is that starting January 1, 2017, in FIPJP sanctioned competitions, “sweeping” in front of a boule to be shot will be treated as an infraction of the rules and punished in some unspecified way. The problem with this new rule is that— like so many other rules—it uses a technical term without defining it. What is “sweeping”?

Sweeping in front of a boule to be shot

To understand what “sweeping in front of a boule to be shot” means, it helps to know a little bit about the history of Article 10.

Between 1964 and 2008, Article 10 specified that players could fill only the hole that had been made by the boule that had just been played. The rule said, in effect, that players got only one opportunity to fix a divot— immediately after the divot had been created. If they didn’t fix the divot then, the divot had to remain in the terrain, unfilled, for the remainder of the game. The effect of the rule, not surprisingly, was to condition players to fill every divot immediately after it had been created. If you watch Youtube videos of games played before 2008 you can see it clearly. As soon as a boule is thrown and it is determined which team is to play next, one of the players of that team goes to the divot and smooths it out.

Under these conditions, it makes no difference what your team is planning to do next. Regardless of whether you are going to shoot or point, your team always fixes the divot before throwing its next boule. Usually the team’s pointer is the most compulsive about filling the divot. He develops a habit, almost a compulsion. He walks to the middle of the terrain, studies the ground, and almost as if in a trance he sweeps a foot across the terrain to eradicate a divot. He does this even if the divot is so small that it is almost invisible. Even if no divot is visible, he sweeps the area with a foot, just to be sure that the terrain is level. And the umpires are OK with that. They probably think that almost always there is some kind of divot. And, really, the difference between a small divot and an imaginary divot is so small that it’s not worth making a fuss about.

And that’s the way the game was played for more than 40 years.

In 2008, Article 10 changes, and that changes everything. Now players can fill a divot regardless of whether it was made by the last boule played. If you are a pointer and you see a divot near your donnée, you can fill it without worrying about whether it was created by the last boule played.

With time, players begin to regard filling a divot as something you do in preparation for the next throw rather than something you do as an automatic response to the last throw. As the general attitude toward divot-fixing changes, younger players become increasingly critical of players who fill divots when there is no immediate and obvious need to do so. They are especially critical of players who fill a divot and then go on to shoot. Questions start to be asked. If you’re planning to shoot, and not point, why should you fill a divot? Is it even legal to fill a divot if you are planning to shoot? Was there really a divot there, or were you just smoothing out the terrain? Even if there was a divot, weren’t you sweeping your foot much wider than was needed just to fill the hole?

Then things start to happen. In 2015, in some French competitions, umpires experiment with enforcing an “if you’re going to shoot you can’t fill a divot” rule. And in 2016 the FIPJP’s international rules acquire a new clause that identifies “sweeping in front of a boule to be shot” as a punishable infraction of the rules.

What is “sweeping”?

One way of defining “sweeping” might be something like —moving around the dirt of the terrain with a sweeping motion of the leg and foot. But of course that captures only the physical motion. The crucial point is that, while it is legal to fill a divot, it is illegal to make any change to the terrain that goes beyond filling a divot— that goes beyond the minimum necessary to fill a divot.

So one definition of sweeping might be— pretending to fill a divot but moving around more of the dirt on the terrain than is actually needed to fill the divot. Another definition might be— smoothing out an area of the terrain under the pretense of filling a divot. Or we can say— “sweeping” is (a) using a sweeping motion of leg and foot (b) while pretending to be filling a divot (c) in order to change the terrain in an illegal way. Sweeping is therefore always illegal, regardless of where it is done and what you intend to do next. And in the expression “sweeping in front of a boule to be shot”, the only operative word is “sweeping”.

Note that the addition of the clause “especially in the case of sweeping in front of a boule to be shot” makes absolutely no change to the rules. Sweeping—making illegal changes to the terrain under the pretense of filling a divot—has always been illegal. But, you ask, if it changes nothing, why was it added?

We’ve said elsewhere that one of the problems with the FIPJP rules is that they are a mixture of game rules and umpire’s guidelines. The clause is not a game rule; it is an umpire’s guideline. Adding it to the rules doesn’t change the rules of the game. It changes the enforcement policy. Basically, the new clause is a signal to FIPJP-certified umpires everywhere that starting on January 1, 2017 they are expected to enforce the rules against sweeping. The days when umpires turned a blind eye toward compulsive sweeping and divot filling are over.

At least that’s the theory.

Changes in enforcement policy are always difficult, and this change will be especially difficult. Deciding how much sweeping is acceptable for divot-fixing and how much is too much will always be a judgment call. Umpires will be reluctant to crack down on players based only on their own subjective judgments.

And players… Will they start asking umpires to come onto the terrain to verify that there genuinely is a divot to be filled, and that the player is filling it in an acceptable way? Will players start requesting that umpires fill the divots, to forestall any possible charge of sweeping?

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few years.

2016 FIPJP rules – American translation now available

Our American-English translation of the FIPJP International Rules of Petanque, as approved December 4, 2016 at Antananarivo (Madagascar), is now available.

  • 2016 American English text
  • Side-by-side French/English text

If you find any errors in these documents, please let us know immediately and we will fix them as soon as possible.

Since this was first posted, revised version of these documents have been published. They can be found HERE.

These rules go into effect for international competitions starting January 1, 2017. Most national federations will adapt (and perhaps translate) the new version of the FIPJP rules to create their own new national versions, and then officially release their new national versions in a few weeks or months. Until that happens, current (pre-2016) versions of national rules remain in effect for national and regional competitions.

The printed pages can easily be assembled into a booklet.


Throwing the jack (2016 rules)

Probably the most significant change in the 2016 revision of the rules is the change to the rule about how the jack is thrown.

Download a pdf copy of this post

Previously the rule was that the team that threw the jack (let’s call it team A) was allowed three attempts to throw a valid jack. (A valid jack, in this context, is a jack that comes to rest between 6 and 10 meters from the circle.)  If after three attempts team A had not succeeded in throwing a valid jack, it turned the jack over to team B, which was also allowed three attempts.  Basically, the two teams alternated in making three attempts until one of the attempts succeeded.

Starting in 2016, the team that throws the jack is allowed ONE attempt to throw a valid jack.  If it does not succeed, then the jack is turned over to the opposing team, which then has the responsibility of placing a valid jack.

Article 6: Start of play and rules regarding the circle

The team that won the right to throw the jack – either after the draw or because it scored in the previous mene – has the right to only one attempt [to throw the jack]. If it is not successful, the jack is given to the other team, which places it [the jack] wherever it wants within the conditions specified in the rules.

In the second sentence, the use of the word “places” rather than “throws” is important.  The other team is assigned the task of getting the jack to a valid location.  There are no rules about how they do it.  The simplest and most reliable procedure is for a team-member to walk to the desired location, lean over, and use his hand to put the jack down on the ground (not drop it!) in exactly the desired location.

The reason for this change to the rules is simple— to speed up games.  Each year at FIPJP tournaments there are problems with games taking too much time.  The one-throw-of-the-jack rule was used for a number of years in time-limited games, and it helped those games to proceed more quickly.  Trials of the rule in non-time-limited games were conducted at a number of European and world events, and the rule worked well in those games, too.  Most teams quickly adapted to the new rule and were in favor of the change. And a noticeable amount of time was saved each day.  Having passed its trial runs successfully, the rule was officially adopted. Voilà! (source: Mike Pegg)

Any change, of course, generates its own new issues and new questions.  Perhaps the most important question raised by the one-throw-of-the-jack rule is—

Will this change have a negative effect on the basic nature of the game?

It is a petanque commonplace that the right to throw the jack gives a team a significant advantage.  Having three attempts to throw the jack allows a team to be aggressive in attempting to get the jack to the exact location where they want it, which is often close to the maximum legal distance from the circle.  But with only one attempt, teams may start playing more conservatively when throwing the jack.  Will we begin seeing games typically played at the bland and boring distance of 8 meters, rather than the exciting and challenging distances of 9 meters and more that we now see?

This seems to me to be a reasonable question, and one that only the future can answer.  On the other hand, as Ernesto Santos notes, the new rule may push the game in a new and interesting direction.  The one-throw rule punishes players that can’t control the thrown jack, while rewarding players who can.  This will put pressure on players to become more skillful at throwing the jack.  The day may come when we see spectacular throws of the jack, and when the ability to control the thrown jack is as important as the ability to shoot well.

There are other, more mundane, questions that arise in connection with the one-throw-of-the-jack rule.

How does this change affect The Stepping-Back Rule?

The short answer is that it makes everything clearer.   The old rule permitted, and raised, a lot of questions, questions that were answered differently by different national federations.  “How many times can a team move the circle back?”  “When does a team lose the right to move the circle back?”  And so on.  With the new rules, all of those questions go away.  The new version of The Stepping-Back Rule is clear and simple.

  • When team A (the team that throws the jack) is ready to throw the jack, if the jack cannot be thrown to the maximum distance in any direction, team A can “step back” the circle in the traditional way.
  • When team B (the team that places the jack) is ready to place the jack, if the jack cannot be placed at the maximum distance in any direction, team B can “step back” the circle in the traditional way.

How does this change affect the rules about challenging the jack?

There are really no significant changes to the rules about challenging the jack.  I’ve unpacked the new rules into six basic rule-scenarios.  The only one that is particularly new or interesting is number 4.

  1. After team A throws the jack, either team may challenge it.
  2. After team A throws the jack (apparently successfully) and throws the first boule, team A loses the right to challenge the jack.
  3. After team A throws the jack (apparently successfully) and throws the first boule, team B still has the right to challenge the jack. If the thrown jack is challenged and found to be invalid, team A is considered to have failed in its one attempt to throw the jack, and team B places the jack.
  4. After team A throws the jack unsuccessfully, and team B places the jack, team B loses the right to challenge the jack.
  5. After team A throws the jack unsuccessfully, and team B places the jack, team A still has the right to challenge the jack. If team A challenges the placed jack and the placed jack is discovered not to have been placed in a valid location, team B is considered not to have accomplished its assigned task of placing the jack in a valid location and must place it again.  Basically, team B must keep placing the jack until they get it right.
  6. After team A throws the jack unsuccessfully and team B places the jack, and team A throws the first boule, team A loses the right to challenge the jack.

A noteworthy fact about the 2016 rules revisions is that they do NOT answer The Pushed Jack Question— “If team A’s thrown jack is neither marked nor measured, and team A’s first boule pushes the jack, can team B challenge the jack?”  The question is still as unresolved as it ever was.  For more information about The Pushed Jack Question, see A Guide to the Rules of Petanque.

Can team B measure before placing the jack?

This question came up during an exchange between Raymond Ager and Mike Pegg on “Ask the Umpire”— https://www.facebook.com/groups/128791213885003/.  Here is my condensed version of the exchange, which I have heavily boiled down and rewritten from the original.

RA: After team A fails to throw a valid jack, if team B wishes to place the jack at exactly 6m or 10m, are they allowed to measure before placing the jack?

MP: Well, the rule is that team B must place the jack in a valid position.  If that means you need to get out your tape measure, then so be it.  Assuming that team B wishes to place the jack at the exact minimum of 6m or the exact maximum of 10m it would make sense to measure first. However, I’ve not seen it happen yet.

RA: If team B doesn’t measure before placing the jack, how do they know the distance is valid?

MP: The teams seem to be able to place the jack in a valid position without measuring.  If you place the jack not at exactly 6m or 10m, but at a distance where it is clear to everybody that it is valid, you don’t need to measure it, do you?


Where to stand

Players sometimes wonder where they should stand (or are permitted to stand) when a member of their own team is throwing, and when a member of the opposing team is throwing. The answer is in Article 16 (“Behavior of players and spectators during a game”). Article 16 stipulates three conditions. (In this quotation I label them a, b, and c.) While a player is preparing to throw his boule –

The opponents must stand (a) beyond the jack or behind the player and, (b) in both cases, to one side of the line of play and (c) at least 2 meters from one or the other [the jack or the player]. Only [the player’s] teammates may stand between the jack and the throwing circle.

So when a member of your own team is throwing, you are allowed to stand anywhere. You may even, if you wish, stand in the head pointing to the donnée with your toe.

The opponents, on the other hand, are much more restricted. The “line of play” [sens du jeu] is an imaginary line running through the circle and the jack. Article 16 says that the opponents are required to stay to one side or the other of the line of play. It doesn’t specify how far from the line of play, but French and Dutch national federations agree that the distance should be at least one meter. The result is this diagram, in which the opponents must stand behind the circle (in the areas marked “A”) or beyond the jack (in the areas marked “B”), at least two meters from the circle and the jack, and at least one meter to the side of the line of play.
where to stand when playing petanque
In tournaments, the convention is for opponents always to stand beyond the jack in the “B” areas. There are potential problems with this practice. A shot boule can easily (and rapidly) fly sideways and hit the foot of a player standing in one of the “B” areas. When a player is shooting, therefore, the other players are wise to stand well away from the head. They should (if possible) stand outside the dead-ball line. Then, if a boule is shot and suddenly flies sideways, it will have gone out-of-bounds and be dead before hitting a player’s foot.

This post is an excerpt from A Guide to the Rules of Petanque.

Taking the point, or: the game’s not over ’til all boules are thrown

Here’s another question from the Frequently-Asked Questions mailbag.

In a recent game my team-mate was Robert, a friend visiting from France. Near the end of the game the score was tied at 12-12 and we had the point. Our opponents had one unplayed boule and Robert had two. The opponents threw their last boule; it didn’t gain the point; we had won! I was ready to declare victory, but Robert insisted that the game wasn’t over until all boules had been thrown. That seemed crazy to me, of course. We had clearly won and there was no reason to throw any more boules. But out of courtesy we waited while Robert went to the circle and threw away his two boules. THEN we declared victory. But, I wonder… Where did Robert get that crazy idea?

Many players can tell similar stories.

Robert wasn’t crazy. But he was European, and that may be an important clue to what’s going on. I recently discovered the rules interpretations of the NJBB, the Dutch petanque federation. It contains an interesting discussion of problems that can arise when one of the teams declares that “We’ll take the point” without throwing its remaining boules. Here is my paraphrase of that discussion.

We’ll take the point
There are many boules, from both teams, close to the jack. Team B is out of boules; Team A still has unplayed boules.

Team A believes that they have the point, and they are afraid that if they play their remaining boules they might mess up the existing situation and lose the point that they now have. So the captain of Team A decides that they will NOT play their remaining boules. He says “We’ll take the point,” and walks to the head for the agreement of points.

The teams measure, and they discover that Team A actually does NOT have the point. So the captain of Team A says, “Well, in that case we will play our remaining boules.” Team B protests and says that Team A has given up the right to play their remaining boules. Who is right? Can team A play their remaining boules?

The answer is NO. [Remember: this is the NJBB umpires speaking.] When a team chooses to say “We’ll take the point” they are in effect saying “Consider all of my boules as thrown: Let’s determine the final score”. That is, by saying “We’ll take the point” they are giving up the right to play their remaining unplayed boules. They are virtually (i.e. for all intents and purposes) throwing away their last boules.

You may or may not agree with this interpretation of the rules, but it is the interpretation used and endorsed by umpires in the Netherlands.

What I consider important is the fact that the umpires took the time and made the effort to develop a written ruling for such situations. That indicates that such situations have actually happened and created problems for players in the Netherlands.

There is an obvious and easy way to avoid such problems. If a team has unplayed boules but just wants to take the game on the ground, they should NEVER do so by saying “We’ll take the point”: they should actually throw away their remaining boules.

At the end of the game, if it is absolutely no-doubts-about-it clear which team has the point, it is probably OK (at least in the USA) to declare victory and go home. I’m not so sure, though, that that would be OK in the Netherlands or in other countries. That, I think, was why Robert insisted on throwing his last two boules. It may (in his American partner’s opinion) not have been necessary, but it wasn’t crazy.

The weight of the boules

Article 2 specifies three weight-related requirements for boules.

  1. Boules must weigh between 650 and 800 grams.
  2. The manufacturer must engrave the weight on the boules.
  3. The manufacturer’s weight mark (le chiffre du poids) must be legible.

The reason for the weight-mark is to make it easy (or easier) to detect a “stuffed” boule. Injecting a substance like mercury into a boule will, all else being equal, increase its weight. So an umpire can simply weigh a boule and be reasonably certain that it has been tampered with if it weighs more than the weight mark.

The requirement for a manufacturer’s weight mark was first added to the French (FFPJP) rules in 1974, and one guesses that the number of stuffed boules has been dropping steadily ever since. As recently as October 2016, at the European (CEP Eurocup) Championships held in Monaco, there was an incident in which the German team was disqualified when it was found to be playing with a stuffed boule. The interesting thing is that the competition was the veterans’ triples competition— the old guys. As the older generation of players dies out, I expect incidents of stuffed boules eventually will stop altogether.

An interesting fact is that a boule slowly loses weight as it is played with over the years, so a boule that has been heavily used for decades can lose as much as 5 to 10 grams of weight. This fact of weight loss prompts players to wonder if there is any amount of weight loss that is too much. Is there some fixed number of grams, they ask, or some fixed percentage of its original weight, that a boule can lose that will render it illegal?

The answer is YES, but you won’t find that rule in the rules of petanque. It is in another document.

The FIPJP publishes a document that lays out requirements for the manufacture of certified competition boules— Conditions Requises Pour L’homologation De Boules De Petanque De Competition (“Requirements for the Certification of Competition Petanque Boules”). Buried in that document are several requirements for what can and cannot happen to boules after they leave the manufacturer.

Article 7 – Note: boules of steel or bronze cannot be subjected to any heat treatment after sale to the user.
Article 9 – In no case can the regulatory marking be changed [retouché] after sale to the user.

Article 8 (“Weight”) says this (I have bolded the part that is important for us here)—

The weight of the boules must be between 650 grams minimum and 800 grams maximum. The following tolerances are allowed:

(a) Manufacturing tolerance for each boule: The maximum difference between the engraved weight and the actual weight may not be greater than plus/minus 5 grams.

b) Tolerance of wear due to use in play: Weight loss should not exceed 15 grams below the marked weight.

When Ray Ager brought up this question on “Ask the Umpire”, Mike Pegg replied that this document contained rules only for the manufacturing of boules, not rules for boules in play. And if the FIPJP rules were well organized, that would be true. But, as we have seen, Articles 7, 8, and 9 actually do contain rules for boules in play. And the meaning of Article 8, clause (b) is quite clear. So there really should be a fourth weight-related requirement for boules in Article 2 of the rules of petanque.

Weight loss due to wear and use in play may not be greater than 15 grams below the marked weight.

This post is an excerpt from A Guide to the Rules of Petanque.

The second half of this post has been completely revised in response to information in a comment by “Dr. Carreau”.  Doctor, thank you! 🙂

Short answers to the top 7 FAQs about the rules of petanque

(1) The jack is dead. What do we do now?
If only one team has unplayed boules, that team scores the same number of points as it has unplayed boules. Otherwise, neither team scores any points. The circle is placed on the assigned terrain, as close as possible to the place where it (the jack) was last alive. The team that last scored points, throws the jack.

(2) What do you do when two boules are the same distance from the jack, or when the terrain is empty?
When one of the teams has the point, the other team throws. When neither team has the point (as in these two cases), the teams throw alternately until the point is decided, starting with the team that threw the boule that created the undecided point.

(3) What do you do when the first boule thrown goes out of bounds?
The other team throws its first boule, and alternate play continues until one team has the point.

(4) If a boule hits something overhead (tree branch, light fixture, ceiling) is it dead?
No, not unless the boule horizontally crossed a dead-ball line at some point.

(5) What do you do when a player accidentally picks up the circle too soon?
Put it back as close to its original location as you can, and carry on with the game.

(6) What do you do when a player accidentally picks up a boule too soon?
Do not call the umpire. Put the boule back as close to its original location as you can, and carry on with the game.

(7) How does the “stepping back” rule work?
When placing the circle, if there is no direction to which you can throw the jack to 10 meters (bearing in mind that a jack thrown to 10 meters must also be at least a meter from all dead-ball lines), you may stand in the circle, face the circle’s position in the previous mene, pick up the circle, back away from the circle’s previous position until there is some direction in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters, and put the circle down in that new location.