Rules of Petanque Libre v2020

The Petanque Libre Project is happy to announce the release of Version 2020-01-01 of the Rules of Petanque Libre.

This version of the rules has been substantially rewritten in order to increase clarity and to facilitate translation into other languages.The version home page is HERE.

Le Projet de Pétanque Libre est heureux d’annoncer la sortie de la version 2020-01-01 des règles de Pétanque Libre. La page d’accueil de la version est ICI.

El Proyecto Petanca Libre se complace en anunciar el lanzamiento de la versión 5,0 de las reglas de Petanca Libre a partir del 01 de enero de 2019. La página de inicio de la versión 5 está aquí.

Boules played out of turn – comparing FIPJP and PL

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?

We can take Mike’s opinion, which was shared by the consensus of comments on the question, as the FIPJP position on this question. It 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.
  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.

Note also that part #2, 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.”

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:

  • FIPJP: It is the responsibility of one team and one team only to determine whether or not it is their turn to throw.
  • PL: 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.


  • FIPJP: Team A did not have any obligation or responsibility to speak up when they saw B2 move the jack.
  • PL: Team A did have a responsibility to speak up. Because they remained silent when they could easily have spoken up, team A is considered to have agreed that team B should throw the next boule.

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

  • FIPJP: Team B’s three boules were thrown “contrary to the rules”, so under the provisions of Article 24 Team A may declare team B’s three boules to be dead.
  • PL: No boules are declared to be dead. Since both teams had agreed that team B should throw those boules, they were legally thrown.

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.

See also the post A boule thrown out of turn on the Rules of Petanque blog.

Rules of Petanque Libre v5

The Petanque Libre Project is happy to announce the release of Version 5.0 of the Rules of Petanque Libre as of January 01, 2019. This version incorporates changes to the provisions of a few rules and many changes and improvements to the wording and arrangement of the rules. We encourage users of previous versions to reread and familiarize themselves with this new version of the rules and the first three appendices. The version 5 home page is HERE.

An interview with Steve Ferg about the Petanque Libre project

Suppose that you meet a petanque player that has never heard of the Petanque Libre project (PL). How would you describe it to him or her?

Well, I would describe Petanque Libre as a project to develop a new set of rules for the game of petanque that is “open” in the sense that international “open standards” are open, i.e. not proprietary to any one company. Right now the international rules of petanque are basically proprietary; the FIPJP owns them, they are the private property of the FIPJP. Petanque Libre is a project to develop a set of the rules that is not owned by the FIPJP. I chose the name “Petanque Libre” because the French word “libre” (open, free) also means “independent”.

The second thing I would say is that the PL rules are designed specifically for use in games where there are no umpires. The FIPJP rules are designed for use in organized, umpired competitions. They are quite badly written, especially the parts that cover illegal actions. But the FIPJP gets away with it because if there is a question about the rules in an FIPJP-organized competition, there is always an FIPJP-certified umpire available to render a final (if perhaps arbitrary) decision. The FIPJP also gets away with it because participants in organized, umpired competitions tend to be experienced players that are not likely to violate the rules. In contrast, the PL rules are designed for use by grass-roots players in friendly games without umpires. Less-experienced players often make mistakes or accidentally do something illegal, and they need a set of rules that is explicit and clear enough that they can understand the rules, and apply the rules themselves without an umpire. That’s the need that the rules of Petanque Libre are designed to meet.

So, to put it in a nutshell, Petanque Libre is a new set of rules for the game of petanque. The PL rules are owned by the players, not by the FIPJP. The PL rules are designed by and for players, not by and for umpires. They are designed to be usable by grass-roots players during friendly, non-umpired games.

Is it important for there to be another version of the rules? What’s wrong with the FIPJP rules?

For one thing, the FIPJP rules are just plain badly-written. The FIPJP has had over 50 years in which to write a good set of rules and it is clear by now that that just isn’t going to happen. The other thing is that the FIPJP rules aren’t really rules for the game of petanque. They are a combination of rules of the game, guidelines for umpires, and rules about how FIPJP competitions should be run. Article 4, for instance, specifies that in order to register for a competition a player must present his/her membership card in an FIPJP national federation. That kind of stuff is not about how you play the game of petanque! One of the goals of the PL project is to strip out all of the extraneous stuff and to write down, as clearly as possible, the rules of the game. JUST the rules of the game. The rules of the game and NOTHING BUT the rules of the game.

How would you describe the differences between the FIPJP rules and the PL rules?

The most important difference is in how the two sets of rules handle illegal events. Here is an example. Suppose a player accidentally picks up one of the opposing team’s boules before all boules have been thrown. The location of the boule is not marked. If an FIPJP umpire is called, he will probably apply a strict interpretation of Article 27 and declare the boule dead, despite the fact that the boule belonged to the opposing team. (The offending player may be given a warning, a yellow card.) In contrast, the PL rules call for the teams to reach a decision that they consider to be fair and mutually agreeable. They will probably agree simply to put the boule back (in a location that both teams agree is pretty close to its original location). And then they will carry on with the game as if nothing happened. They will, in effect, un-do the illegal event. In contrast, an FIPJP umpire (without a marked location, which hardly ever exists) can’t undo an illegal action.

Another important difference is that the PL rules are much more clearly written than the FIPJP rules. They have to be. They have to be clear enough that ordinary players can understand and apply them, because there are no umpires around to do that job for them. I put a lot of effort into trying to make the rules clear and explicit. For example, the PL rules contain a lot of definitions. I don’t think that there are any definitions in the FIPJP rules. The most notorious example, of course, is the word “obstacle”. It is an important word in the FIPJP rules, but it is never defined. By comparison, the stand-alone word “obstacle” never occurs in the PL rules, but two specific terms— “throwing obstacle” and “pointing obstacle”— do, and both are explicitly defined.

Could the players agree to put an illegally-moved boule or jack back, even if its original location wasn’t marked?

Yes, certainly. If they are playing by the PL rules.

When an umpire is called in to make a decision, FIPJP rules forbid the umpire from making a decision based on the (possibly conflicting) stories provided by the competing teams. The FIPJP rules require an umpire to base his decisions only on marks that he can see on the ground. That’s why the FIPJP rules are obsessed with marks on the ground. But there is no reason for the rules of Petanque Libre to be obsessed with marks on the ground. Marks on the ground hardly appear in the rules of Petanque Libre. If the original location of the boule was marked, then of course those marks will help the teams to restore the boule to its original location. But the teams can do that even if there are no marks on the ground.

How big is the project? The editorial committee or whatever you call it… how many members does it have?

Right now there is only me. I started the project and right now I am the only member of the working committee. Whenever somebody starts an open standards project, it’s a gamble. You never know whether the project is going to attract the support of a lot of other like-minded people or whether no one is going to be interested. Right now the PL project is at the stage where it has run the flag up the flag pole and we’re waiting to see if anybody salutes it. We just have to wait and see what happens.

Is your goal to replace the FIPJP rules with the Petanque Libre rules?

Absolutely not. Only the FIPJP can set the rules of play for its own competitions. The rules of Petanque Libre are designed to be used outside of FIPJP-sanctioned competitions, or more specifically, outside of umpired competitions.

You say that the PL rules are designed to be used in non-umpired games. Still… would it be possible to use them in an umpired competition?

Yes, I think so. I don’t think it would be difficult. The last PL rule is the Consensus Rule, which says that any of the other rules may be changed, waived, supplemented, or over-ridden by agreement of the teams. In an organized, umpired competition you’d want to replace that with a rule that says that in a problematic situation where the two teams cannot reach a mutually agreeable resolution, an umpire will be called in to render a decision.

Along with umpires, of course, would come all of the machinery of the penalty system: colored cards, warnings, penalties, disqualified boules, etc. Ideally that machinery would be described in a separate document, and the competition rules would specify that the competition would be conducted using a combination of the PL rules and the rules in that document.

The FIPJP really should write such a document. You can find pieces of the penalty system in the FIPJP rules, but they are fragmentary and described very badly. They really need to be pulled out into a document of their own. And improved, of course.

Would the PL project ever consider trying to develop such a document: an open umpire’s guide?

No, we’d never try to do that. The certification of umpires, the development of guidelines for umpires, and the running of umpired competitions— these are all different things from the pure rules of the game. Right now they are de facto the concerns of the FIPJP and the national federations, and PL has no desire to compete with FIPJP in that area. Only the FIPJP has the authority to develop an umpire’s guide for its own umpires, to tell them how to do their jobs.

In the last few years FPUSA and Petanque New Zealand have made a good start on developing umpire’s guides for their respective national federations. The Netherlands and Germany have had rules-interpretations documents for a number of years. I’d love to see an international effort, with the national umpires committees of the USA, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, etc. working together to develop a trans-national English-language umpire’s guide. If that happened, it would be useful in and of itself. But it could also be a model for an international umpire’s guide. But right now that’s just my fantasy. I don’t know of anyone else who is thinking along those lines.

Earlier you said that at the beginning of an open standards project there is no way to tell whether it will flourish or flounder. Suppose the PL project did flourish. What would it do? Where would it go next?

My view is that petanque should be viewed as a traditional activity with a traditional set of rules, like (say) of chess. The FIPJP rules are a modified form of that traditional game: the FIPJP version of the game has been modified and adapted to the conditions of large organized competitions. It is hardly surprising, then, that every few years the FIPJP tweaks and changes its rules to meet the changing needs of large organized competitions. In contrast, I see the rules of petanque as almost timeless: a traditional activity that we have inherited. If we can get the traditional rules written down properly, then they should be stable and (ideally) there would be no reason to change them. That’s the goal of the Petanque Libre project.

Of course in the first year of the project there have been three or four revisions to the PL rules. But that is a normal process of shaking out the bugs at the beginning of a project— you can’t get everything right on your first try. So I expect the pace of revisions to slow down and eventually to come to a halt, or nearly to a halt. The goals of the project are inherently limited in scope. I do NOT see a future of endlessly revising and issuing new versions of the PL rules. Actually, right now I think we’re very close to having a stable, final version of the rules of Petanque Libre. We’ll see…

If the project really were to flourish, there are a couple of things that I can see happening. The first, which could be done once the rules have stabilized, is for the rules of Petanque Libre to be translated into French. Right now the project is being carried out in English, and the canonical version of the rules of Petanque Libre is the English-language text available on the Petanque Libre web site, But petanque is a French game, and a really flourishing PL project would mean making the PL rules available to French-speaking players. And then, perhaps, to Spanish, German, Thai, who knows?

Also, if PL really begins to flourish, I think players will generate new questions about the rules. The rules of PL are designed to be clear and explicit, so (at least in theory) they should generate fewer questions and confusions than the FIPJP rules do. But it is impossible to write rules all of which are always absolutely clear to everybody. Players will certainly come up with new questions about the implications and interpretations of the rules. It is questions like those that the notes attached to the PL rules are designed to address. So even if the rules themselves remain stable, it is likely that the notes attached to the rules will need to be updated more frequently than the rules themselves.

But the bottom line is that, even if PL explodes in popularity, the plans for future project activity are quite modest.

Finally, let me ask about the Petanque Libre logo. Is there some symbolism there?

Well, it is based on the old Chinese yin-yang symbol. I didn’t have any symbolism in mind while I was designing it, but now when I look at it I see two teams playing a game of petanque. They are competing, yet they are playing harmoniously in a single self-contained whole, a game, without any need for a third party (an umpire).

Rules of Petanque Libre v4

The Petanque Libre Project is happy to announce the release of Version 4 of the Rules of Petanque Libre, available HERE.

Request for Comments
At this time we are also issuing a Request for Comments. We are requesting—

  • Comments on this version of the rules
  • Questions about the interpretation of the rules. These questions, along with their answers, may be added to the Notes in future versions of the rules.
  • User Experience Reports: If your group adopts or experiments with using the rules of Petanque Libre, we would like to hear from you about your group’s experiences (positive or negative) using the rules.

How to submit comments in reply to this RFC
Comments responding to this RFC can be submitted:

Emailed messages may contain comments in attached files. File attachments must have an extension of .txt, .odt, or .docx. Comments submitted in reply to this RFC will be treated as public comments and may be posted on this web site.

Rules of Petanque Libre v3

The Petanque Libre Project is happy to announce the release of Version 3 of the Rules of Petanque Libre, available HERE.

Changes in this version from the previous version include:

1. A definition of “pointing obstacle” was added to Paragraph 29. Paragraph 57 was modified to specify that a thrown jack must be at least 1 meter from a pointing obstacle. A note about pointing obstacles was added to the notes. This change brings PL into closer conformity with FIPJP.

NB: FIPJP uses the word “obstacle” but never defines it. PL does not use the term “obstacle”. Instead, it defines and uses two specific terms— “throwing obstacle” and “pointing obstacle”.

The rule about pointing obstacles 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. A pointing obstacle is something (like a wall or a building on the terrain) that limits the open space around the thrown jack. The dead-ball line is in effect a pointing obstacle, which is why the thrown jack must be at least a meter from any dead-ball line (see also FIPJP Article 7). Tree roots are not generally considered pointing obstacles.

2. Paragraph 109 was added. “In a game played on a terrain that has no marked boundaries but is surrounded by a physical barrier designed to prevent balls from leaving the terrain (e.g. wooden boards or concrete curbs), a ball that hits the physical barrier is dead.” This explicitly enunciates a commonly-used local rule.

3. A definition of “active circle” was added to Paragraph 16.

4. A new section title, BOULES THROWN CONTRARY TO THE RULES, was inserted, and the section title ILLEGAL EVENTS was moved down by three paragraphs. The paragraphs in the BOULES THROWN CONTRARY TO RULES section were re-ordered.

5. A number of improvements in terminology and presentation were made. Paragraphs 18 and 19 exchanged places. Paragraph 76, which defines “challenge the point”, was moved up to become Paragraph 70, so that it is located before other uses of the expression. Paragraph 39 (“If a live ball hits or is hit by a dead boule on or near the terrain, the live ball is considered to have hit a feature of the terrain”) was moved to the end of the ADDITIONAL RULES FOR MARKED TERRAINS section.

6. The number of paragraphs in this version is: 120.

Rules of Petanque Libre v2

We are happy to announce the release of Version 2.0 of the Rules of Petanque Libre, available HERE. Version 2 also includes the rules formatted for easy assembly into a booklet.

Changes in this version from the previous version (v1.0) include:

  1. The rule “After all boules have been thrown, the visibility of the jack cannot be challenged,” was accidentally omitted from v1. It has been added to the section on the visibility of the jack. Also, the second death-condition for the jack was revised. It now reads: “[The jack is dead if] The jack is not visible from the circle and there is at least one unplayed boule.”
  2. One rule governing the placement of the circle was incorrectly worded in v1. The corrected text now reads:

    However, if the jack was dead or located outside of the home terrain at the end of the previous mene, the circle is placed on the home terrain as close as possible to the last location where the jack was alive in the previous mene.

  3. The following text has been added to the section about deciding which team plays next.

    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.
    If a team throws a boule without giving the opposing team a chance to challenge the point, and the teams later discover that it (the offending team) should not have thrown the next boule, the boule is considered to have been thrown contrary to the rules.

  4. A boule thrown from the wrong circle is now considered to have been thrown contrary to the rules. This brings PL in line with traditional rules about throwing from the wrong circle.
  5. A paragraph has been added describing what the teams should do if a boule is thrown contrary to the rules:

    If a team throws a boule “contrary to the rules”, the offended team has the choice of [a] leaving the illegally-thrown boule where it is, [b] declaring the illegally-thrown boule to be dead, or [c] agreeing to undo the illegal event.

  6. A number of minor stylistic improvements were made. Some section headings were deleted or rewritten. Some sentences were moved. Some paragraphs were combined. As a result of these changes the numbering of the paragraphs has changed. (Note that cross-references within the rules do NOT use paragraph numbers.)

Moving a boule while measuring

Reposted from the Rules of Petanque website.

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

Article 28 says:

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

The question is:

Boules A1 and B1 appear to be the same distance from the jack. While measuring, Albert (from team A) accidentally bumps B1 a few millimeters farther away from the jack. So (per Article 28, because Team A moved a boule while measuring) Team A loses the point. Boule A1 loses the point, boule B1 has the point, and Team A plays the next boule.

During the agreement of points, Team A starts to use the normal point-counting procedure. A1 is closer to the jack than B1, so Team A naturally says that A1 beats B1. Team B disagrees, arguing that A1 earlier lost the point to B1. What is the correct ruling?

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

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

Interestingly, Mike Pegg has suggested that it is possible for the two teams to agree to undo an illegal event even in a game supervised by FIPJP umpires. If an unmarked boule is moved accidentally, he says, agree with your opponent to replace the boule. “Do not call the umpire because if you do he or she will say the boule must remain where it is.”

Simply leaving everything where it is after an illegal event, rather than undoing the event, can lead to unfair decisions. In our example, if A1 had been bumped (so that its location but not its distance from the jack had been changed) A1 would have had the point. This might have given Team A the game and even the competition victory. Naturally, Team B would be upset. They would feel that Albert’s illegal action— which, despite its illegality, was allowed to stand— had robbed them of what might have been the winning point. And they would be right. Mike Pegg says

For team B this may seem a little unfair given the outcome of other boules being played but they should have marked their boule.

Mike’s remark reminds us that when nothing is marked, an FIPJP umpire must rule that everything should be left where it is. If a team complains about unfairness, the umpire’s response is to blame the players for not marking their boules. It is a feeble response, but it is the only defense that the umpire has against charges of unfairness.

What’s wrong with the FIPJP rules

There are four major problems with the FIPJP rules.

(1) The FIPJP rules are a mixture of different kinds of rules.

The FIPJP rules are a messy mixture of the rules of the game (like the rules of chess), administrative rules for running competitions (“Before the start of a competition, each player must present his membership card”) and guidelines for umpires (“No claim can be accepted [by an umpire] regarding boules or jack whose positions have not been marked”). The FIPJP rules are more like competition rules than rules of the game of petanque. This wouldn’t be a major problem if it were possible easily to disentangle the different kinds of rules. But it is not.

(2) The FIPJP rules are designed for umpired competitions.

The FIPJP rules assume competition conditions and the presence of an umpire. For some rules there is no way to interpret or apply the rule without an umpire. (The definition of “visible from the circle” is “visible to an umpire standing in the circle”.) This is a problem because every day, around the world, in petanque clubs and groups large and small, most games are played without an umpire.

(3) The FIPJP rules are extremely badly written.

It is impossible, at least here, to list the many, many ways that the rules are badly written. Many rules are ambiguous, vague, or simply incomprehensible. Important rules are missing. Some rules, under some circumstance, are grossly unfair.

These problems could be mitigated by a robust body of case law of interpretations, but no such body exists. There is no mechanism for communicating interpretations between umpires, or between umpires and players. Interpretations differ from umpire to umpire, and from national federation to national federation.

(4) These problems are unacknowledged and hidden.

What makes these problems so serious for the FIPJP is that they are not recognized or acknowledged. As long as the FIPJP does not recognize that there are problems with the rules, the FIPJP will not fix them.

What makes these problems so serious for players is that the problems are hidden so well. Players who read the rules naively assume that the rules are a well-written document, created by an experienced, highly-competent international organization that is over 50 years old and has hundreds of thousands of members around the world. When they have difficulty interpreting and applying the rules, players look elsewhere for the cause, and hardly ever question the quality of the rules themselves.