What Is Pétanque?

Pétanque is a popular French lawn/outdoor game. It is quite similar to British bowling and Italian Bocce ball and belongs to the bowl games family that originated in the Mediterranean region and which we usually refer to as boules in French. 

The game is played between two teams who try to throw small metallic balls called boules, equivalent to the size of an orange, as close as possible to another ball made of wood, called but or cochonnet, which is equal to the size of a bottle cork.

Let’s learn more about Pétanque’s history, the game rules, and other relevant aspects.

Pétanque History

The history of the invention of Pétanque can be traced back to ancient Egypt and Greece when boules games were invented and became very popular. 

A kind of boules game called Jeu Provencal became quite popular in France in the early 19th century. In 1910, Pétanque was introduced as a variant of the Jeu Provencal. A former player of Jeu Provencal developed rheumatism and was unable to run before he could throw the boule. His friend Ernest Pitiot, a local café owner, developed Pétanque. The pitch or field length was reduced, and players had to stand in a circle instead of running after the boule. The game was originally named Pieds Tanques, and afterward, its name was changed to Pétanque.

The first formal Pétanque tournament was held in 1910 by Ernest Pitiot and his brother in La Ciotat. Soon the popularity of the game reached other areas of the country too.

Until the early 19th century, European boule games were played with wooden balls. In the late 19th century, nailed boules were introduced; wooden balls covered with nails. After the First World War, hollow metal boules were introduced. The first such ball, la Boule Intégrale, was introduced in the 1920s and made from a bronze aluminium alloy. Soon after, steel boules were introduced and made metal boules widely popular. 

After the introduction of metal boules, Pétanque’s popularity spread throughout Europe and then to French colonies around the world. The sport became so popular that soon countries had their own governing bodies. These include Spain, England, Germany, and many previous French colonies, including Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, in Asia and African countries as well, which were French colonies.

 France’s governing body for Pétanque has more than 300,000 licensed Pétanque players. The sport may not be popular in the Americas, but Canada and America have their respective governing bodies. The Federation of Pétanque USA has more than 50 affiliated clubs with thousands of members in the US.

The international governing body for Pétanque is Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal, which was established in 1958 in Marseille, France, and has around 800,000 members. 

How is Pétanque Played?

Here is how Pétanque is played.

  • The game is played between two teams, each team having 2 or 3 players. The game is based on a single, double or triple format. Players have 3 metal boules each in singles or doubles, and in triples, each player has two boules.
  • The area or field where the game is played is called terrain. It can also be played in parks etc., informally without borders.
  • Players stand in a circle while throwing the boules. The circle is around 20 in diameter.
  • The game has various “ends,” which comprise the throwing out of the target ball made of wood called a cochonnet. The two teams throw their boules at the target, and the team with the boule closest to the cochonnet wins the end.
  • A score is allotted to the team for each boule that is closer to the jack than the opponent, and the team with the highest score wins.

While teams have the chance to score as much as they can but a game typically ends with a score of one or two. In theory, teams continue to gather points until one team reaches 13, which is the winning number.

Pétanque Rules

A game of Pétanque begins with a toss, and the team winning the toss plays first. The playing team places the circle, stands inside, and throws the jack or cochonnet to a distance of 20-33 feet. The player who throws the jack also throws the first boule. Then a player from the other team throws. Hence the game continues. The team whose boule is closest to the jack has a point and the team not having a point throws the boule until it scores or runs out of boules.

If the boules of two teams at any point are equally closer to the jack, the teams play on an alternate basis until the tie is broken. No score is allotted if the teams are at par in terms of distance and reach the mene or end. An end is usually completed when both teams have played all their boules or when the cochonnet or jack is knocked or thrown out. The team winning one end plays the next end.

Players can throw the boule any way they like. However, traditionally the boule is held with the palm downwards and thrown with an under-arm swing followed by flicking of the wrist. Players use a measuring tape to measure the points. Players are also allowed to move their circle to ensure there is enough room to throw the jack to the maximum allowed distance, i.e., 33 feet. 

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