Move over, plastic throwing circle; here comes the petanque mat

There is a new product on the market— the “petanque mat” (tapis de pétanque or tapis de lancement). It is a 50cm circular piece of vinyl polymer (rubber). It is 3mm thick. You place it on the ground like a plastic circle, and when you throw, you stand ON it rather than IN it.

It is manufactured by a Franch company, Tapis de Pétanque ( Their web site says that these petanque mats were approved by the FIPJP in 2019, and they put a stamp on the mats to prove it. (I haven’t found anything on the FIPJP website that documents or announces this approval… but then the FIPJP said nothing a few years ago when it approved OBUT’s paramagnetic “black jack”.)

The mat comes in a plain black “classic” design (above) for about €20 and a slightly thicker (4mm) “luxe” version. The luxe version comes in a variety of preprinted designs for about €70, and you can have one printed with a custom design for around €140.

The touted benefits of the mat are that it can be rolled up, making it more portable than a plastic circle; it is comfortable to stand on; you can’t trip on the edge when stepping off of it; a player standing on it cannot move it; and it causes no disturbance of the ground that needs to be repaired at the end of the mène. I think we have to take those claims with a few grains of salt. It’s still possible, of course, to trip on the edge when stepping ON to the mat. And it is possible to kick and move the mat when you aren’t actually standing on it, so you still must mark it.

I think it is a neat idea, but for manufactures and vendors of petanque equipment, not for players. Basically, it is just another platform for advertising. In the future we may start to see mats with OBUT logos in televised championships, but for everyday grass-roots games nobody is going to spend €140, or €70, or even €20 on a mat when they can get a perfectly serviceable plastic circle from Decathlon for $7.

One consequence of these mats— assuming that the FIPJP now really does recognize/approve the use of mats as well as plastic circles — might be that grassroots players will begin cutting 50cm circles out of pieces of carpet tile, scrap rubber or carpet, to make their own home-made mats. Personally, the idea of lugging around a dirty old piece of carpet doesn’t appeal to me— I’d rather just draw a circle on the ground, in the traditional way. Or I could raid my grand-daughter’s college savings fund and purchase one of these tapis de pétanque— after all, they are washable.

Playing with a larger jack

Last week I tried to watch a petanque video on Youtube, but it was hopeless. You just couldn’t see the jack. It was a low-resolution video, the terrain was light-colored, and the black-colored jack was completely lost among shadows caused by irregularities in the terrain. Eventually I gave up.

Later I wondered what could have been done to make the jack more visible. Perhaps a different color. Or… perhaps… a larger jack!

There is no reason why the jack has to be the size that it is— 30mm ±1mm, as currently specified by the FIPJP rules. The size isn’t written in stone. Before 2008, the official size of the jack was 25mm to 35mm in diameter, which allowed for quite a lot of variability.

What if we played with a larger jack? For one thing, it would make televised matches easier to follow. And there would be another benefit— it would make the game easier for vision-impaired players. Last year one of our senior players began to experience the effects of age-related macular degeneration. Fortunately she was able to continue to play if we used our brightest-colored jack. But it occurs to me that we could help her even more by playing with a larger jack. Why not?

If you make your own jacks, it is easy to make a larger jack. Normally you would start with a wooden ball 1-1/4″ (30mm) in diameter. Instead, start with a wooden ball 1-3/4″ in diameter. The 1-3/4″ wooden balls that I ordered from arrived in a package marked 1.7in | 44mm. The size seems good to me: bigger, but not too big. Here is a picture of the two sizes of wooden balls along with a 75mm boule.

I’m not saying that the FIPJP should change its rules about the size of the jack. (Although it would be sensible to provide competition organizers with a “large jack” option for televised games or games with a large stadium audience.) But I think that for friendly games with vision-impaired players, it would be quite reasonable to consider making and using larger jacks.