'No jeans' rule causes boules blues in France

Paris (AFP) –


Must one be chic to play boules? Rules outlawing the wearing of jeans during the national championship in France have provoked an outcry from amateur players of the famed Gallic game.

Often organised in parks or village squares, traditionally with a glass of wine or aniseed liquor in hand, boules or "petanque" is usually an informal affair in France that unites young and old from all social backgrounds.

But as the national federation eyes recognition of the game as an Olympic sport, it has decided serious players need to smarten up and present a more dignified image in competitions.

"We are simply applying a rule that has existed since 1990," a spokesperson from the national petanque federation, the FFPJP, told AFP on Tuesday amid signs of rebellion from amateurs across the country.

Jeans are already banned for the latter stages of the national boules championship, but the dresscode was previously ignored during the qualifying games.

- 'Now a high-level sport' -

The federation is now insisting on non-denim trousers or smart shorts at every level of the contest.

"Blue jeans are the most subject to the effects of fashion, of being badly maintained, ripped, unwashed or not very clean," the federation official told AFP.

"For a long time petanque was a leisure pursuit, everyone did as they wanted, but now it's a high-level sport.

"It's a question of image. We feel we are being watched ahead of the 2024 Olympics (in Paris) and a federation that can't get people to respect its rules doesn't look good," the official added.

The diktat looks set to be contested by the rebellious French and had become a national news story on Tuesday.

- 'Respectable choice' -

An association of players has organised a jeans-only competition on May 1 in the southern city of Nimes, the historic birthplace of denim, to protest against the change.

Other players have spread an image online of the president of a club in Gy in eastern France who poked fun at the no-jeans policy by turning up to play dressed as a clown with spotty green trousers.

The FranceInfo news channel meanwhile sent a reporting team to a boules club in the town of Besancon where denim-clad locals were either angry or resigned to obeying the new dresscode.

"Jeans are a respectable choice," one man said. "Why are any other sort of blue trousers ok, but not jeans?" another asked.

Petanque and the other similar sports ?- known as boules, Lyonnaise and raffa -- launched their bid for Olympic inclusion in 2015.

The game is normally played in gravel, on any scrap of land, part of its appeal as a cheap and accessible sport that is easy to understand and play.

Popular throughout France and in its former colonies, players compete to throw steel balls closest to a smaller ball, known as the jack.

One problem with its bid for Olympic glory is that competitors traditionally use similar projectiles, making it hard for spectators and television viewers to tell who is winning -- an issue that might be more of problem than the sight of jeans.

The World Confederation of Boules Sports has been experimenting with special graphics on TV and has also been injecting the balls with epoxy resin of different colours.

The world body boasts of 262 federations spread over 165 countries and 200 million devotees across the five continents, especially in Asia.

The national game was in the headlines in France for the wrong reasons last week when it emerged that a man had died in the south of the country when a metal petanque ball exploded in his barbecue.

The 31-year-old suffered serious shrapnel wounds in the village of Boulou while cooking in front of his mother and three young children.