How do you say the score in petanque?

How do you say the score in petanque?

Before we look at the question of how to say or report the score in a game of petanque, let’s look at the general question of how to report the score of a game in any sport. Suppose that you are a spectator watching a game between Team A which has 3 points and Team B which has 4 points. Team A is the host (“home”) team; Team B is the visiting (“away”) team. You turn to your companion and say “Now the score is…”

  • If you are in the USA, you probably say the highest score first, e.g. “4-3” or “4-3 in favor of Team B”. In most American sports this is the customary practice during the game, and the almost universal practice after the game is over and the winner is known: the winner’s score is given first, followed by the loser’s score: “9-8, Team B”.
  • You may say the score of the home team first (“3-4”) or the score of the visiting team first (“4-3”). Giving the score of the visiting team first seems to be an American custom, originating with American baseball. The rest of the world does the reverse, typically giving the score of the home team first. That’s the difference between American football and soccer.
  • In some sports, games have rounds or “innings” in which the teams play different roles— in an “inning”, one team is “in” (e.g. batting) while the other team is “out” (e.g. fielding). During an inning in these games the traditional practice is often to report the score of the “in” team first. During a set in tennis, for example, one player “serves” and the other player “receives service”. In this context the standard practice is to say the score of the server first.

With petanque, at least in the USA, after a game has finished the standard practice seems to be to report the score of the winning team first. The question that most interests me is how we talk about the score during the game, after the agreement of points at the end of each mène.

  • (A) In the USA, perhaps the most common technique is to use the highest-score-first technique— “4-3” or “4-3, in favor of us (or you).”
  • (B) Another approach is to copy tennis’s practice of saying the score of the server (or in this case, the serving team) first. In petanque the “serving” team (the team that throws out the jack for the next mène) is the team that won the last mène. So you first say the score of the team that won the last mène. If you know that the score is 3-4, and you know that it was your team that won the last mène, you know that your team’s score is 3.
  • (C) There is another approach, also inspired by tennis. In tennis, before serving, the server calls out the score, saying his/her own score first. In petanque, after the agreement of points, the winning team verbally reports the score from its viewpoint (“3-4”), to which the opposing team responds by verbally reporting the score from its viewpoint (“4-3”). This produces a “call and response” exchange (an “affirm and confirm” exchange”?) which usefully confirms and finalizes the two teams’ agreement on the score.

I think that each of these techniques is probably used by some group, somewhere, in the USA or in France or elsewhere. What I don’t know, and would like to know, is:

  1. Is there a group that uses a different technique than the ones I’ve mentioned here?
  2. Is there one particular method that is more widely used than the others?

Throwing the jack to 6-10 meters

To start a mène (end, round) the winning team places the circle and then throws out the jack to a distance of 6 to 10 meters.

Article 7 says: “The distance that separates [the jack] from the interior edge of the throwing circle must be 6 meters minimum and 10 meters maximum for Juniors and Seniors.” In petanque, when measuring the distance between two objects, you always measure the shortest distance between the objects. So the rule says that the shortest distance between the inside edge of the circle and the front of the jack must be no less than 6 meters and no more than 10 meters.

The front edges of the two jacks in the picture (below) are at exactly 6 meters and 10 meters from the circle. Both jacks are valid. If the jack at 6m was a little closer to the circle, it would not be valid because the distance would be less than 6m. If the jack at 10m was a little farther from the circle, it would not be valid because the distance would be more than 10m.

It is important to be clear about the fact that the wording of the rule uses the concept of distance, not of area. The distance between the circle and the jack must be between 6 and 10 meters. Some players confuse this with the rule about a boule straddling the boundary line of a marked playing area. They imagine an area with boundaries at 6 and 10 meters from the circle, and think that the rule says that the jack must be at least partially inside the boundaries of that area in order to be valid.

Imagine a square on the lane going from 6 to 10 meters from the circle. When you throw the jack it is valid when even the smallest part of the jack is in the square, like a boule’s validity until it totally passes the dead-ball line.


According to this mental model the jacks straddling the “lines” in the above drawing are valid. In fact, however, there are no lines on the ground to be straddled. The jack at about 10 meters IS valid because it does not exceed the maximum allowable distance, but the jack at about 6m is NOT valid because it is less than the minimum allowable distance.

Sometimes players express the same confusion by asking: “Does ‘between 6 and 10 meters’ mean between 6 and 10 meters as measured to the front of the jack or to its back?” Again: in petanque, when measuring the distance between two objects, you always measure the shortest distance between the objects. So the answer is: the FRONT of the jack.

Which team starts the next game?

Question: In an informal setting, two teams play a series of games against each other. After a game is finished, which team throws out the jack to start the next game?

Here’s a story from Gary Jones.

When I first started learning the game, I didn’t have enough playing experience to know the most common way of playing, so I tried to glean my knowledge from the written rules. Since the rules say that the team that won the toss or the last scoring round throws the first boule, that’s the way we played– even from game to game. So we always played “Winner first.”

As an American, I had EXACTLY the same experience when I was learning the game. This year, however, we had a visiting player from France, Daniel. Daniel told us that in France they play “Losers start the next game.” I figured that since it was a French game, the French way must be the right way. But I wanted to make sure that Daniel had given us an accurate account of French tradition. So I checked with Raymond Ager, a British player who now lives in the south of France. He confirmed what Daniel had said.

I would say, in an informal setting, it’s for the players to agree such things among themselves. There is no ‘official’ rule but I think the convention that everybody adopts is that the losers of the last game start the next — in England players say, “Mugs away!”.

Another player, Andy Walker, confirmed the “Mugs away!” expression.

So there it is… The losing team starts the next game. French players can draw on long-standing oral tradition to help them when the written rules aren’t helpful. American players aren’t so lucky, and I suspect that Gary’s story and mine might be common in America. So I thought I’d write this post to help other American players who have had the same experience.

Mugs away!

After writing this post, I realized that I didn’t really know what “Mugs away!” means. A bit of internet research revealed that it is British slang (probably derived from the game of darts) and it means “Losers start!” It is what the winner of a game says to the loser, and it means basically “Let’s start (the next game). You play first.”

The word “mug” has some mildly derisive connotations.

The term ‘mug’ is simply an adoption of the common (UK) slang word ‘mug’, meaning a fool, a simpleton and especially a gullible ‘punter’ who is most likely to fall prey to a confidence trickster. (SOURCE)

It is a piece of mild one-upmanship, implying that since I (the speaker) just won, I can afford to be generous and give you (the loser, who fondly imagines he has a chance against the great me) the advantage of throwing first, although, of course, it won’t help you a bit. (SOURCE)

We need guidelines as well as rules

If an organization issues a document Rules of the Sport of X, that organization should also issue another document— Guide to the Interpretation of the Rules of X. Here’s why.

In order to be effective, a set of rules governing any activity needs to be both concise and precise; both short and clear. Every sentence should be phrased carefully and be grammatically correct. Slang and verbosity, which may cause confusion, should be rigorously avoided. Every word should be the right word, every word should count, and two words should never be used where one would do. Technical terms should be introduced explicitly, defined carefully, and used consistently. No rule should be stated twice— especially if it is worded differently in different places.

With a novel or a newspaper or a magazine article we read along, get the general gist of things, and that is all we need. We’re not used to reading documents that are written in the tight, compressed, precise way that a good rules document is written. That is why, in addition to rules documents, we need rules guides.  The purpose of a rules guide is to translate the compressed language of a rules document into the kind of language that we normally use in everyday life, so that players can more easily understand the full meaning and implication of the rules.

A rules guide document is a collection of comments on the rules. One thing that a comment can do is to point out implications of a particular rule. For example, when a single word (“only if” rather than “if) has significant implications for the meaning of a rule, a comment can point that out. Sometimes the full significance of a rule can be seen only when it is placed in a wider historical or cultural context— comments can provide that wider context. In some situations there may seem to be no applicable rule, or multiple contradictory applicable rules— a rules guide can note the existence of such situations and explain how to deal with them.

A rules guide will almost certainly need to be revised more frequently than a rules document. With time, players will inevitably find new ways to be confused by the rules, and will come up with new questions about the rules. The rules (if they were well-written) won’t need to be revised, but the rules guide will need to be updated to deal with such new confusions and questions as they emerge.

Note that a rules guide is not the same thing as an umpire’s guide. A rules guide contains comments on the rules of the game. An umpire’s guide contains guidelines, advice, and instructions for umpires, telling them how to perform their roles as umpires. A petanque umpires’ guide, for instance, would help umpires in deciding when to impose penalties and which penalties to impose; how to reach a decision when teams offer conflicting stories about what happened; and so on.

Ideally we would have three separate documents— the rules, a rules guide, and an umpire’s guide. In the case of petanque what we actually have is only the FIPJP’s international rules in which umpire guidelines are intermixed with rules of the game. There is no separate FIPJP rules guide or umpire’s guide. Some national federations also issue a “rules interpretations guidelines for umpires” that contains rules guides and umpire’s guidelines.

Boules played out of turn

This post was first published on the Petanque Libre blog under the title Boules played out of turn - comparing FIPJP and PL. I republish it here because I think it gives a clear account of the FIPJP procedures for dealing with boules thrown out-of-turn. See also our earlier post, A boule thrown out-of-turn.

A recent question on Mike Pegg’s “Ask the umpire” forum provides a good opportunity for comparing and contrasting the FIPJP rules and the rules of Petanque Libre. The purpose of this discussion is not to pass judgement on the merits of these rules. It is simply to point out the differences between the two sets of rules with regard to one specific kind of situation.

Steve Frampton asked about a situation that occurred during a recent competition. Here is my paraphrase of his question.

Team A is holding the point. Ben, on team B, throws boule B2. B2 doesn’t gain the point, but it bumps the jack closer to B1, team B’s first boule. Team A sees that the jack has been moved, but says nothing. Ben, standing in the circle, doesn’t realize that B2 has moved the jack. Ben and team B don’t go to the head to inspect the situation on the ground. Team B doesn’t think that are holding, so they continue pointing.

Team B points 3 boules (B3, B4, B5), none of which disturbs any of the balls already on the ground. The last boule clearly calls for a closer inspection of the situation around the jack. As the teams inspect the situation, they discover that Ben’s boule B2 had actually gained the point when it bumped the jack toward B1.

At this point, the question is— Team B threw 3 boules “contrary to the rules”, right? What should be done? Is it relevant that team A saw that B2 moved the jack, but said nothing?

Mike’s opinion, and the consensus opinion of the comments, has three parts.

  1. After throwing B2, it was team B’s responsibility to verify that they didn’t have the point before throwing their next boule. They didn’t do that, so the fault for the boules played out-of-turn lies entirely with team B.
  2. Boules B3, B4, and B5 were thrown “contrary to the rules”. Therefore, under the provisions of Article 24, team A has the choice of deciding whether each boule is dead or still valid. Team A has the right to declare all three of the boules to be dead.
    NOTE that the assertion that the three boules were thrown contrary to the rules is actually an interpretion of the expression “thrown contrary to the rules”, and an interpretation that is not universally shared. A rules interpretation by Petanque New Zealand, for instance, says “Boules played out of turn are not considered as an infringement to the rules [as “boules thrown contrary to the rules”] but indeed as a mistake. Players making such a mistake penalise themselves by reducing or losing the ‘boule advantage’. In conclusion, players do not incur any penalty, and boule(s) are valid and stay in place.”
  3. When team A saw that B2 moved the jack, team A were under no obligation whatsoever to say “you may have moved the jack”.

The last point seems to fly in the face of our ordinary sense of fairness. Surely, one thinks, team A had a moral obligation, if not an obligation under the FIPJP rules, to speak up when they saw that B2 had moved the jack. The umpire at the competition where this situation occurred apparently shared this opinion— he ruled that it would be unfair to disqualify all three boules, and told team A that they could choose to disqualify one, and only one, of the three boules.

If we now turn to the rules of Petanque Libre (PL), two things are worth noting.

First— PL rules, unlike FIPJP rules, contain provisions that explicitly deal with just this kind of situation. The PL rules are designed for use by players in games where no umpires are present to provide rules interpretations. The PL rules consequently need to be so clear and explicit that questions of “interpretation” or “fairness” simply never arise.

Second— PL’s treatment of this kind of situation (in the DECIDING WHICH TEAM THROWS NEXT section) is different from the consensus interpretation of the FIPJP rules that we’ve just presented. PL (version 5, the latest version) says—

It is the responsibility of both teams to reach an agreement about which team has the point and which team should throw the next boule.

If both teams agree on which team should throw the next boule, and that team throws the next boule, the boule is considered to have been legally thrown. The legality of the thrown boule cannot be changed by subsequent measurements or discoveries (e.g. a measurement for the point or the discovery of a forgotten boule).

A team that has the opportunity to challenge the point, but does not challenge it and lets the opposing team play the next boule, is considered to have agreed that the opposing team should throw the next boule.


In our example situation:


and when it is discovered that B2 had gained the point:

This is, I think, an accurate comparison of the FIPJP rules (or at least: the consensus interpretation of the FIPJP rules) and the PL rules regarding boules thrown out-of-turn.

CNA comments on throwing an invalid jack

In January 2017, the CNA (Commission Nationale d’Arbitrage, the French National Umpires Committee) issued some comments on Article 6. The comments were in French, and so weren’t readily accessible to English-speaking players. In this post, I present an English translation of those comments. My English translation is loose but I think accurate. The original French documents can be found on the FFPJP website and also 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 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.

In a comment on an earlier version of this article, Gary Jones wrote (February 8, 2018):

Thank you for sharing. I do have one comment. The clarification of Article 6 states, “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.” It should also be noted that the umpire would, in all likelihood, issue a WARNING (yellow card) to the team that failed in its obligation to place the jack in a valid position.

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

Continue reading

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.

Article 35: new rules about exceeding the time limit

Revised: 2021-04-10
When the FIPJP released a new version of the rules in December 2016, umpires and players discovered that two sentences (marked [a] and [b], below) had been inserted into Article 35.

For non-observation of the rules of the game the players incur the following penalties:
1) A warning, which is indicated officially by the showing by the umpire of a yellow card to the player at fault.
[a] However, a yellow card for exceeding the time limit is imposed on all the players of the offending team. [b] 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.

These two sentences caused an immense amount of confusion among players and umpires.

A month later the CNA (the French National Umpires Committee) issued a memo in which it attempted to clarify the new rules by introducing new jargon— a “collective” infraction of the rules, and “collective” yellow cards. The new jargon wasn’t necessary. All the memo meant by “a collective yellow card” was “giving a yellow card to each team-member”, and “a collective infraction” was simply an infraction for which the umpire was required to issue a collective yellow card.

There actually was a much simpler solution. The new sentences should have been rewritten like this—

The first time that any member of a team exceeds the time limit, a warning (yellow card) is given to each member of the offending team. If one of these players has already received a warning (yellow card) he will be penalized by disqualification of a boule and given an orange card.

Note that the new rule applies only to the first time in a game that a team commits a time-limit infraction. Perhaps an individual player hesitated too long in the circle. Perhaps the whole team spent too much time discussing strategy among themselves. It doesn’t matter. The first time (and only the first time) that a team exceeds the time limit, each individual team member is given a warning. It’s just that simple.

A traditional, unwritten rule-of-thumb for umpires is— First offense gets a warning; second offense gets a disqualified boule. The purpose of sentence [b] is to write that guideline into the rules as an explicit requirement for umpires. This is the first time that the FIPJP rules have contained a mandatory penalty.

The CNA memo (and the new sentences in Article 35) are confusing because they talk as if a colored signal card is the same thing as a penalty: as if a yellow card is the same thing as a warning. But if we go through the CNA’s memo and replace cards with penalties, we’re left with an interesting collection of case descriptions. What these cases show is that the CNA is very consistent about applying the rule: First offense gets a warning; second offense gets a disqualified boule.

The following examples are for a team composed of three players A, B and C.
The term “individual infraction” means any infraction of the rules other than an infraction of the time-limit rule.

Case 1
No player has received a warning for any infraction of the rules.
Player A exceeds the time limit.
The umpire gives a warning to each player: A, B, and C.

Case 2
Each of the players has been given a warning for exceeding the time limit.
Player A commits an individual infraction.
The umpire disqualifies one of player A’s boules.

Case 3
Each of the players has been given a warning for exceeding the time limit.
Player A exceeds the time.
The umpire disqualifies one of player A’s boules.

Case 4
Player C commits an infraction of a rule other than the time-limit rule.
Player B exceeds the time.
The umpire gives a warning to players A and B.
The umpire disqualifies one of player C’s boules.

Case 5
Player A commits an individual infraction.
Player B commits an individual infraction.
Player C exceeds the time.
The umpire disqualifies one of player A’s boules.
The umpire disqualifies one of player B’s boules.
The umpire gives a warning to player C.

Case 6
Player A commits an individual infraction.
Player B commits an individual infraction.
Player C commits an individual infraction.
Player A exceeds the time.
The umpire disqualifies one of player A’s boules.
The umpire disqualifies one of player B’s boules.
The umpire disqualifies one of player C’s boules.
Case 7
Each of the players has been given a warning for exceeding the time limit.
The team exceeds the time limit for a second time, by conferring among themselves as a group for more than a minute.
The umpire disqualifies one of the team’s boules.

Actually, there are only 6 cases on the CNA’s list— Case 7 is my own addition. It is remarkable that Case 7 is not on the CNA’s list, because it is the most controversial case of all.

In Case 7, all three players are what the CNA calls “direct authors” of the second infraction— each player personally participates in the act that breaks the rule. In my opinion, in Case 7 an umpire who wishes to follow the letter of the law and wishes to apply the rules consistently will disqualify one boule for each of the offending players— three boules in total. But of course that would be a very harsh penalty. What will actually happen is that umpires will shy away from ruling that way, and will disqualify just one of the team’s boules (see international umpire Mike Pegg’s ruling HERE). That’s why, as the decision for Case 7, I have specified that “The umpire disqualifies one of the team’s boules.”

At this point, players and umpire will of course ask: “Which boule does the umpire disqualify?” For the answer to that question, see our post on What does it mean to “disqualify a boule”?

Three players exceeding the time limit as they discuss what to do next

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 most cases, an obstacle is just a thing

In most places in the rules where the word “obstacle” occurs, you could replace the word “obstacle” with the word “something” without changing the meaning of the rule.
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, he is not allowed to do so. In Article 19, an “obstacle” is something that is out-of-bounds, that a boule hits, which causes a boule to bounce back in-bounds. In Article 25, an “obstacle” is something on the terrain (a big rock, a tree root) that gets in the way of measurement.

There are two kinds of obstacles, however, that require special discussion. They are throwing obstacles (obstacles around the circle) and pointing obstacles (obstacles around the jack).

THROWING OBSTACLES, or: obstacles around the circle

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”. The purpose of this rule is to move the circle away from 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.

Note that starting with the 2020 rules revision, the circle may not be placed closer than 1.5m to a circle or a jack in a game being played on an adjacent lane. On the other hand, it is legal to place the circle right against a dead-ball line— indeed, this is what you should do when an unmarked jack is shot across a dead-ball line at the end of a lane.

POINTING OBSTACLES, or: obstacles around the jack

Article 7 (in the 2020 version of the rules) says that the jack (after being thrown or placed) must be at least half a meter from any “obstacle” and at least half a meter from any end dead-ball line. This rule is designed to insure that it is possible for a player to point a boule anywhere within half a meter of the jack, in any direction from the jack. Here, a pointing obstacle is something (a tree, a wall, a wooden sideboard) that infringes on the open space around the thrown jack.

Note that starting with the 2020 rules revision, the jack may not be placed closer than 1.5m to a circle or a jack in a game being played on an adjacent lane. In addition, the jack may not be placed closer than 50cm from an end dead-ball line. It may be placed next to, but not touching, a side dead-ball line.

For some diagrams illustrating the new (post-2020) rules governing the placement of the circle and the jack, see this post.

There are a number of frequently-asked questions (FAQs) about obstacles.

Is a wooden surround a throwing obstacle? It might interfere with the backswing of a squat pointer.
Over the last few years, international umpire Mike Pegg has changed his position on this question. At one time he held that a wooden surround is not a throwing obstacle, because a squat pointer can always stand, rather than squat, when pointing. Then he held that that a surround that is higher than 25cm is a throwing obstacle because “at this height or higher it may impede a player”. Now (as of January 2021) his position is that— As a general rule, a player crouching or standing in the circle must be able to swing their arm backwards without touching anything. If they cannot, then the item preventing this action would be considered an obstacle.

His position is now the same as our position has always been. Players always should be able to use their normal throwing form, and to do so in safety. Normally a wooden surround is not considered to be a throwing obstacle, but if a squat pointer expresses concerns when the circle is less than a meter from a wooden surround, the surround should be considered to be a throwing obstacle and the circle should be moved away from it before the jack is thrown. [See Is a wooden sideboard a throwing obstacle?]

Is a wooden surround a pointing obstacle?
Petanque is sometimes played on a terrain without boundary strings, but completely enclosed by wooden sideboards. On such a terrain, the sideboard is a pointing obstacle if it is less than half a meter from the jack.

Are trees considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
YES. A tree trunk is both a throwing obstacle and a pointing obstacle.

Are tree roots considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
Generally speaking: NO. They are considered to be features of the terrain, like rocks. There is no clear-cut rule however— in some cases it would be reasonable for the two teams to agree to consider a really large root a pointing obstacle.

Article 19 says that a boule is dead if it goes out-of-bounds, hits something, and bounces back onto 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 issue here has nothing to do with what is considered to be an obstacle. The relevant question is: “Are objects above the terrain out-of-bounds?” And the answer to that question is NO.

Think of the dead-ball lines as invisible walls that the dead-ball lines on the ground project up into the sky. If a ball stays inside those invisible walls— if it stays directly above the terrain— it stays 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. The photograph (below) shows 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. If a boule hits one of those light fixtures and drops onto the terrain, the light fixture may be damaged but the boule will still be alive.


Is there really any difference between a throwing obstacle and a pointing obstacle? Aren’t they all just “obstacles”?
Some things (e.g. a wall) can be an obstacle to both throwing and pointing, but that’s not true of all obstacles. In this photograph the jack is located less than half a meter from a large tree root. The root is big enough to constitute a pointing obstacle but not big enough to constitute a throwing obstacle. (Boules have been placed on the ground to give a sense of scale.)

In this photograph (below) the jack is located more than half a meter from the trunk of a mesquite tree, so the tree trunk isn’t a pointing obstacle. But at the start of the next mene the low branch, which is only about 4 feet above the jack, would make it impossible for a player to stand upright in a circle placed around the jack. That makes the tree branch a throwing obstacle— at the start of the next mene the circle would have to be moved a meter away from the branch.

Here is a similar situation. The rail fence isn’t a pointing obstacle; it is possible to point to within half a meter of the jack in any direction. But at the start of the next mene it will be a throwing obstacle— the circle will have to be moved a meter away from the fence.

Post revised: 2021-01-28, to reflect the 2020 changes to the rules