Absorbing, yet so genteel

Sporting feature - PetanqueAS if getting whitewashed is not bad enough in any sport, petanque takes it one step further with its quirky rule of 'being fannied'.The stereotypically Gallic sport, which is also known as boules, is as social as it is competitive and the unique forfeit typifies the spirit in which the game is played.

Petanque

AS if getting whitewashed is not bad enough in any sport, petanque takes it one step further with its quirky rule of 'being fannied'.

The stereotypically Gallic sport, which is also known as boules, is as social as it is competitive and the unique forfeit typifies the spirit in which the game is played.

Matches are generally keenly-contested and can take two hours to complete, with the winner the first to 13 points. To lose 13-0 takes some doing and, if you or your partner(s) fail to score, then you are expected to suffer the further humiliation of kissing the rear end of an opponent's mascot, real or statue.


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The origins come, predictably, from the French, where the victor(s) would present a lady member and she would bend over and raise her skirt to receive the smacker from the loser(s).

I never witnessed any such rituals on my visit to the English Petanque Association national finals at Bury St Edmunds.

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What I did see was over 100 players battling it out in the mixed doubles on the third day of competition.

The rain didn't deter the players who pointed and shot their shiny steel balls and small jacks on a gravel terrain.

Players from as far as York, Exeter and Kent had travelled to Suffolk to compete.

Simon Doble and Trevor Blows from Braintree were among the locals who did well, with a quarter-finals place, while Simon Bird and Sofian Lochani lost their semi-final mixed doubles by a thrilling 13-12.

Although many regard boules as French, its origins can be traced back as far as early Egyptian times. Petanque is a derivative of the French word for tied feet and legend has it the game started when a keen boules player was confined to a wheelchair and played from a sitting position.

His friends adopted a standing stance instead of the usual short run up and a whole new sport was spawned.

All ages played, including nine and 10-year-olds, who national umpire John Thatcher tells me are “very good with terrific potential”, while the oldest was 84.

EPA chairman Mike Pegg, a former national umpire, is a respected figure on the world scene. He said: “We are hoping that petanque will gain Olympic recognition and one day it will appear in the Commonwealth Games too. If France had been awarded the 2012 Olympics, there is a good chance petanque would have been included.”

With 60 countries worldwide actively competing, the tentacles of the sport are spreading, although France dwarfs most nations with its 70,000 players.

In England, it is getting towards 3,000 regular competitors and slightly fewer in Wales, followed by Scotland.

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