Petanque (sometimes called Boules) is a target sport, where participants throw metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet or jack, while standing inside a circle with both feet on the ground. The game is normally played on hard dirt or gravel. It can be played in public areas in parks, or in dedicated facilities called boulodromes.
"The greatest attraction of Petanque is that it can be all things to all people.
Like a Renoir painting it is subtle, multilayered and complex.
It can be savored by a casual novice through to the greatest master".
(B.W. Putman 2011)
Petanque rules are simple, learned within minutes, and a novice can play immediately without having to be "taught" to play; Yet it is strategic and complex and difficult to master if you want to become an accomplished player.
As an activity it is low tech, inexpensive and easily accessible, it requires no fancy equipment, clothing or sports grounds, just a patch of dirt or gravel and a set of boules which will likely last a lifetime. It provides social stimulation, friendly fun, exhilarating challenge and intense competition depending on the level you want to play at. It may be the only sport that can be played competitively by any age group from five to 95 and is suitable for players with a range of abilities and disabilities; you don't have to be fast, fit or strong. It is gender neutral - men and women compete on an equal basis and it can be played any time of the day and any time of the year. Individuals can choose to play purely for social fun, or can go on to achieve National and even International recognition if they want to put the time and energy into the sport.
In summary, Petanque can be played by anyone, anywhere, anytime, with minimal input or equipment.
About the Sport
Petanque is played by two teams, where each team consists of one, two, or three players. In the singles and doubles games each player plays with three metal boules. In triples each player uses only two. The area where a petanque game is played is called a terrain. A game can be played in an open area like a public park, where the boundaries of the terrain are not marked, or it can be played on a "marked terrain", where the terrain boundaries are marked (traditionally, by strings). Each marked terrain is called a piste.
Equipment consists of a set of two or three boules per player, a cochonnet (or jack) and a tape measure.
Petanque can be played on almost any flat, open space. The ground may be irregular and interrupted by trees or rocks, and the surface is likely to be uneven, with some areas hard and smooth and other areas rough and stony. When an area is constructed specifically for the purpose of playing petanque, the playing surface is typically loose gravel, quarry dust, or crushed sea shell. Sandy beaches are not particularly suitable, but are often used for social games.
Boules can be thrown in any way the player prefers — under-hand, over-hand, whatever. The standard way is to hold the boule with the palm of the hand downwards, and then to throw with an under-arm swing of the arm ending in a flexing of the wrist. Throwing this way puts backspin on the boule and gives the player more control and more flexibility when throwing.
When starting a game, opposing players toss and the winning team begins the game. The first person to play draws a circle in the ground (prefabricated circles are now widely used), then steps in and throws the jack (6-10m) and a player from that team throws the first boule. The opposing player(s) throw the second boule. From that point on, the team with the boule that is closest to the jack is "holding" and the team that is NOT holding throws the next boule. They continue to throw boules until they either, beat the holding boule or have run out of boules. After all boules have been played, the team with the boule closest to the jack wins the end and score one point for each of its boules that is closer than the opposing team's closest boule. A team can score as many as six points in an end, but normally score one or two points. The team that wins that end begins the next end by drawing (or placing) a circle around the jack and beginning from there. Each team accumulates points until one of the teams reaches 13 points and wins the game.
Competition boules must meet specifications set by the FIPJP. They must be hollow and made of metal (usually steel) with a diameter between 70.5 and 80mm and a weight between 650 and 800g. Leisure boules are boules that do not meet the FIPJP standards for competition boules, but are less expensive than competition boules and completely adequate for "backyard" games.
Generally speaking, a player throws a boule with one of two objectives. To make his boule come to rest in a particular spot, usually as close as possible to the jack (this is called pointing) or to make his boule directly hit an opponent's boule with the goal of knocking it away from the jack (this is called shooting). As a matter of strategy, pointers play first and shooters are held in reserve in case the opponents place well. One of the fundamental strategies of petanque is "boules in front and boules in hand"
Origins of Petanque
As early as the 6th century BC the ancient Greeks are recorded to have played a game of tossing coins, then flat stones and later stone balls, called spheristics. The ancient Romans modified the game by adding a target that had to be reached as closely as possible and this variation was brought to France by Roman soldiers and sailors. After the Romans, the stone balls were replaced by wooden balls and in the Middle Ages, it was referred to as Globurum, but became commonly known as Boules (i.e. 'balls'). In the 14th century, Charles IV and Charles V of France forbade the sport to commoners and this ban was only lifted in the 17th century. By the 19th century, in England the game had become "bowls" or "lawn bowling", but in France the game evolved into jeu procencal, similar to today's petanque, except the length of the playing area was longer and players ran three steps before throwing.
History of Petanque
The current form of Petanque originated in 1907 in La Ciotat, in Provence, France in what is now called the Jules Lenoir Boulodrome. It was invented by Ernest Pitiot, a local cafe owner, to accommodate a French jeu provencal player named Jules Lenoir, whose rheumatism prevented him from running before he threw the ball. In the new game, the length of the pitch or field was reduced by roughly half, and a player no longer engaged in a run-up while throwing a ball, but stood, stationary, in a circle.
The first petanque tournament with the new rules was organized in 1910 by the brothers Ernest and Joseph Pitiot. After that the game spread quickly and soon became the most popular form of boules in France.
Before the mid 1800s, European boules games were played with solid wooden balls, usually made from boxwood root, a very hard wood. The late 1800s saw the introduction of cheap mass-manufactured nails, and wooden boules gradually began to be covered with nails, producing boules cloutées ("nailed boules"). After World War I, cannonball manufacturing technology was adapted to allow the manufacture of hollow, all metal boules. The first all-metal boule, la Boule Integrale, was introduced in the mid-1920s by Paul Courtieu. The Integrale was cast in a single piece from a bronze-aluminum alloy. Shortly thereafter Jean Blanc invented a process of manufacturing steel boules by stamping two steel blanks into hemispheres and then welding the two hemispheres together to create a boule. With this technological advance, hollow all-metal balls rapidly became the norm.
Global spread of the game
After the development of the all-metal boule, petanque spread rapidly from Provence to the rest of France, then to the rest of Europe, and then to Francophone colonies and countries around the globe. Today there are National Federations throughout the world and Petanque is actively played in most countries in the world.
The International governing body of petanque is the Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FIPJP). It was founded in 1958 in Marseille and now has 112 national federations in 112 countries. Petanque is universal, present on the five continents and in the largest countries (Argentina, Australia, China, USA, India, Japan, Russia), but is also in very small states (Brunei, Djibouti, Haiti, Monaco, Seychelles, Vanuatu). It is present both in islands (Malta, Mauritius, Comoros) and the foothills of the Himalaya (Bhutan, Nepal). It is played in the warmer countries (Qatar, Polynesia) and in the colder regions (Canada, Mongolia).
Organisation of Petanque
The international governing body for petanque world wide is the Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FIPJP). There is also the International Centre for the Teaching of Petanque, a training arm of FIPJP and the World Confederation of Boules Sports, which includes petanque, lawn bowls and bocce.
Under FIPJP's jurisdiction there are five continental confederations; The African, Asian, European, Oceania and Pan-American Confederations. New Zealand belongs to Oceania and is an associate member of The Asian Confederation.
Confederations are made up of multiple national federations which in NZ is Petanque New Zealand. Petanque NZ is made up of five regions, three of whom have active regional bodies and over 40 clubs throughout the country.
National and international competitions
The FIPJP World Championships take place every two years. Men's championships are held in even-numbered years, while women's and youth championships are held in odd-numbered years. In 2015 FIPJP introduced a new world championship, men's and women's singles, and the intention is to expand this to men's and women's doubles and mixed doubles. Perhaps the best-known international championship is the Mondial la Marseillaise de Pétanque, which takes place every year in Marseille, France, with more than 16,000 participants and more than 200,000 spectators.
Petanque is not currently an Olympic sport, although the Confédération Mondiale des Sports de Boules — which was created in 1985 by several international boules organizations specifically for this purpose and has been lobbying the Olympic Committee to make it part of the Summer Olympics. In 2015 they made a renewed campaign to get Boule Sports included in the Olympics in time for the 2024 games.
The universal appeal of petanque is not only geographical, but is reflected in the number of countries that have won medals in various world championships. This increases from year to year, demonstrating the continued development of petanque in many countries and shows a qualitative increase in the level of national teams. At this point 67 countries have won medals in at least one world championship.
Petanque New Zealand hosts six hotly contested National Championships each year. The National Triples; Doubles; Singles; Women's Triples; Senior Doubles; and Club Championships. We also select at least four National teams a year, two senior teams and two open teams to contest the annual TransTasman Challenge, as well as other teams to participate in Oceania, Asian, Pan Pacific and World Championships.