A deep dive into pétanque

Fadhil Yunus

The history of pétanque can be traced back to millennia ago when a set of stone balls dating 9000 BC was found in Turkey with another dating 7000 BC discovered in Egyptian tombs.

In ancient times, the sport was popularised by the Roman and Greek, with the former being the first to introduce it in Marseille, France approximately 2,600 years ago.

Round stones, collected from the mountains and seabed, were used to play the sport.

And back then, the person who threw it the most accurately and farthest was declared the winner.

The sport spread around the European continent during the Roman conquest and colonisation.

The Romans used to play the sport in a showcase of energy and physical abilities.

At the end of the 19th Century, France became the first country to release specific conditions for the game jeu provençal, another name for pétanque.

In pétanque, players throw their boules/balls towards a target ball while standing in a circle. PHOTO: FADHIL YUNUS

Players needed to make a small run-up and threw the ball within a distance of 15 to 21 metres.

In 1910, jeu provençal was amended in La Ciotat close to the city of Marseille in southern France. The amendment stemmed from a great player named Jules Le Noir who was involved in a serious accident. Despite the accident, his interest and enthusiasm did not fade.

There is a story stating that while the wheelchair-bound Jules Le Noir was happy seeing his family play jeu provençal, his younger brother observed that he was frustrated at being unable to play.

Feeling sympathetic, the younger brother handed Jules Le Noir the ball to throw and found that he could throw it accurately, within three to four feet.

Jules Le Noir was able to use energy from the base of the arm and his wrist during his attempt and this led to the younger brother looking for ways to make amendments to the sport.

A circle was drawn on the ground for players to stand in and both thighs must be close together. Players were no longer needed to make a run-up to comply with the previous rules.

With the amendment, Jules Le Noir was then able to play the sport he fondly loved again.

During World War II in 1945, pétanque, which had been modernised, gradually became popular and spread rapidly to all the British colonies. And by the end of the 20th Century, it had reached Eastern Europe and Asia including Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Japan, Singapore and Brunei.

Federation Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provencal (FIPJP) was established in 1958 in Marseille with 600,000 members from 52 countries with the first world championship held the following year.

Currently, petanque has gained popularity in Europe, America and Asia, most notably France, Belgium, Switzerland, West Germany, England, Holland, Spain, Sweden, Canada, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Madagascar and the Pacific Islands.

In the Asian continent, Thailand leads the rest by becoming the 17th member of the FIPJP.

Countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei have also shown interest in pétanque.

Currently, FIPJP boasts members from over 56 countries.