Players protest as 'Bouliganism' mires championships
THE French pastime of petanque, or boules, normally conjures up visions of a gentle sport played by pastis-sipping retirees in Provence.
Not so, it seems, when it comes to the world boules championship, an annual international event held in Marseille this week.
A team of three shaken players from northern France has pulled out of the tournament after claiming to have received death threats from local rivals who promised to "rip off their heads" unless they let them win.
The ugly incident has raised fears of a fresh rise in 'bouliganism' – players coming to blows over a game – after a spate of boules-related violence in recent years.
After winning three matches on Sunday, the team from Marchiennes, near Lille, northern France, was just two points from victory against a 'triplet' of local players from Vitrolles and Marignane. They held an 11-6 lead, but their dream of clinching the tournament – the high point of the boules calendar – was brutally interrupted when their rivals cried: "Even if you reach 13, you're going to lose."
According to Guillaume Duez, one of the northern players, a rival 'bouliste' then grabbed the 'cochonnet', the small wooden ball used as a target, snatched his cap and hurled it on the floor, exclaiming: "I'm going to write that we won. If any of you snitch, you're dead." In a further flurry of threats, he allegedly said: "If you say anything, I'll rip your head off."
Anthony Laruelle (28) another member of the threatened team, said the locals then took the scorecard to a referee who was not on their pitch.
"They knew him and asked him to validate the match," he told La Voix du Nord, the regional northern newspaper. Despite the threats, the shocked trio refused to capitulate and appealed to a jury of referees. But with no resolution in sight after an hour-and-a-half, the northerners threw in the towel and decided to head home.
To their surprise, tournament organisers rubber-stamped the 'victory' by the locals and allowed them to stay in the tournament. However, they lost fair and square in the next round. Locals sought to play down the incident, with Patricia Jeanjean, president of the Bouches-du-Rhone committee saying: "This type of disagreement happens every so often, just like in other sports."
'La Marseillaise', the local newspaper and a sponsor of the tournament, said the row had been overblown by 'Marseille-bashing' critics.
But Laurent Martinez, head of the Marchiennes team, said: "This is my 14th Marseillaise. I've seen lots of intimidation but never death threats!"
(© Daily Telegraph, London)