French boules lovers push for recognition

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Media captionThe game's world federation put out an upbeat promotional video as part of its campaign for Olympic recognition

Fans of the gentle French pastime of boules are on a roll. Not only has an agreement been signed to allow their sport to be played in French schools, but now they are also seeking Olympic recognition.

Generations of holidaymakers have fond memories of hours spent playing boules, while sipping pastis (aniseed liqueur) under plane trees.

But boules players say their game is a bona fide sport and should be taken as seriously as football or tennis.

"We are a competitive sport that requires a lot of skill, strategy, and fitness," argues Claude Azema, President of CMSB, the world boules organisation. He rejects suggestions that it is just a game for fun.

"It's not just a sport you play when camping in summer - that's like saying Sunday joggers are in the same category as world marathon champions."

And there is a sense in France of a concerted push for petanque, which is the most common version of boules in France.

The French education minister recently included it as a sport that could be played in French schools.

Image caption Petanque is the most common form of boules
Image caption And it is in the words of one aficionado: "A cheap, popular game, with no doping issues"

Petanque and its history

  • Players stand still and throw hollow metal balls at a smaller ball called the "cochonnet" (the jack)
  • The team that manages to land their boules closest to the jack wins the game
  • It is a variety of boules, which includes other games such as Bocce or Jeu Provencal
  • The game dates back to ancient times and has been popular in France for centuries

"We are not yet a topic that can be taken for the French baccalaureat (school-leaving exam), but we hope one day we will be," says Alain Cantarutti, President of the French boules federation.

Petanque players are not only aiming to attract a new generation of young players, they are also taking a swing at the Olympic Games. The world boules organisation CMSB has launched a bid to be included as an Olympic sport in 2024 - with an upbeat, stylised video that has taken France by surprise.

"What is a candidate for the 2024 Olympic games? Paris no! Petanque, yes! More French than the baguette, the beret and the camembert," wrote French daily 20minutes.

"We are confident about our bid. Boules is a universal sport, played in 169 countries by both women and men," says Mr Azema.

"It's a cheap, popular game, and we don't have any doping issues."

So no liqueur on the pitch?

"Pastis has been out for a long time, ever since advertising alcohol was banned. Anyway that's the amusing image we have in France, but abroad it's a serious game," says Mr Azema.

In Thailand, boules became a popular game among the military after it was declared a national sport by the Thai royalty.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption French Prime Minister Manuel Valls tries his hand at petanque

But there is tough competition to join the elite sports featured in the 2024 Olympics.

Boules may already have a potential advantage as Paris is bidding to host the competition.

But whether or not Paris succeeds in its bid, petanque players would have to knock another sport from the games, so they are arguing some competitions should be shortened to make space for a new entrant.

And if their candidacy fails, there will always be the sandy courts and the plane trees. And, of course, the pastis.

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