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Basque Pelota

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(Redirected from Pelota)

Pilota in Basque and Catalan, pelota in Spanish, or pelote in French (from Latin pila) is a name for a variety of court sports played with a ball using one's hand, a racket, a wooden bat (pala), or a basket propulsor, against a wall (frontón in Spanish, frontoi in Basque, frontó in Catalan) or, more traditionally, with two teams face to face separated by a line on the ground or a net. Their roots can be traced to the Greek and other ancient cultures, but in Europe they all derive from real tennis (see Jeu de Paume). Today, Basque Pelota is widely played in several countries: in Spain and France, specially in the Basque Country and its neighbour areas. In Valencia, Valencian pilota is considered the national sport; it is also played in rural areas of Ireland (Gaelic handball), Belgium, North of Italy, Mexico, Argentina and in some States of the U.S. as Florida.

Since its creation, The International federation of Basque Pelota has standardised the different varieties of the game into two or three simpler modalities, with fixed ball weights, rules and court sizes. There are, however, criticisms on this, since some might argue that the original traits of each particular modality would be lost.

Basque pilota

Frontoi in Ainhoa (Labourd)
Frontoi in Ainhoa (Labourd)

The antiquity of Basque ball-game is uncertain but it seems consolidated in the 19th century. The first official competitions were organized in the 1920s.

The History of the World Championships

Since 1952, The International Federation of Basque Pelota has organised the World Championships of Basque Pelota.

  • 1952 - San Sebastian: France 8 gold medals, Spain 5, Argentina 3 and Mexico 1
  • 1955 - Montevideo: Spain 5 gold medals, Argentina 3, Mexico 2, France 1 and Uruguay 1
  • 1958 - Biarritz: Spain 5 gold medals, France 3, Argentina 3 and Mexico 3
  • 1962 - Pamplona: Argentina 4 gold medals, Spain 3, France 3 and Mexico 2
  • 1966 - Montevideo: France 4 gold medals, Argentina 3, Spain 3, Mexico 2 and Uruguay 1
  • 1970 - San Sebastian: Spain 4 gold medals, France 3, Argentina 2, Mexico 2 and Uruguay 1
  • 1974 - Montevideo: Argentina 5 gold medals, France 4, Spain 2 and mexico 1
  • 1978 - Biarritz: Spain 4 gold medals, Argentina 3, France 2, Mexico 2 and Uruguay 1
  • 1982 - Mexico: France 6 gold medals, Argentina 4, Spain 1 and Mexico 1
  • 1986 - Vitoria: France 5 gold medals, Spain 3, Mexico 2 and Argentina 2
  • 1990 - Cuba: Spain 6 gold medals, Mexico 3, France 2, Argentina 2
  • 1994 - Saint-Jean-de-Luz: France 5 gold medals, Spain 4, Mexico 3 and Argentina 2
  • 1998 - Mexico: Spain 5 gold medals, Mexico 3, Argentina 3, France 2 and Cuba 1
  • 2002 - Pamplona: Spain 4 gold medals, France 4, Mexico 3, Argentina 2 and Cuba 1


International projection

Basque pelota has been an official Olympic sport in Paris 1900 and a demonstration sport in Paris '24 (men), Mexico '68 (men) and Barcelona '92 (men and women) and could be an exhibition sport in London 2012.

Although this sport is mostly played in Spain and France, there are also federations of Basque ball in Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Philippines, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, United States, Venezuela, Netherlands, India and Greece. Due to the origin of the game, there are many good players who are Basques, either natives of from the Basque diaspora[1].


Playing area

Playing paleta at the trinquet of Elizondo (Navarre)
Playing paleta at the trinquet of Elizondo (Navarre)

Basque pelota is played in a two walled court (Basque: frontoi or pilotaleku, French: fronton, Spanish: frontón). As seen in the Sare picture above, there are also courts with one wall (although they are not recognized by the International Federation of basque Pelota).

These courts are often built in villages using a wall of a church or town-hall as frontal one, to which it has been attached another longer wall, with marks for the distance to the frontal one. The lateral wall is always at the left of the frontal one, while the right side is open and the playing area is simply delimited there by a line on the floor. The popularity of the game led to many Basque churches to put signs forbidding pelota games on their porches.

The back side of the court has typically a wall in closed courts (including professional ones) but it's often open in common rural open-air courts (and, in this case, also delimited by a line on the floor).

There are four standard types of courts:

  • Very Short court (30m long): used professionally only for frontenis and paleta-rubber variants.
  • Short court (36m long): used professionally for handball, paleta-leather and short bat variants.
  • Long court (54m long): used professionally for long bat, remonte and basket variants.
  • Trinquet (28.5m long): it has a somewhat different shape than the others: with an inclined roof all along the left wall. It allows the variants of handball, paleta-rubber, paleta-leather and xare. It's used almost exclusively in the Northern Basque Country, but also in some places of Castile.


  • Handball (Basque: esku-pilota, Spanish: pelota a mano): played barehanded (or with minimal protections) and with a traditional ball made of wool around a hard core and covered with leather. The standard ball should weigh 92-95 grams. It is played in the short court either individually (one vs. one) or by couples (two vs. two). Traditionally and professionally it is reserved for men. Players can be distinguished by the swelling of their hitting hand.
Short paleta.
Short paleta.
  • Paleta-rubber: played with a short and wide wooden bat, called paleta in both Spanish and Basque, and a rubber ball. Can be played by both men and women.
  • Paleta-leather: played with a bat similar to the previous one but with a traditional leather ball. In principle, reserved for men.
  • Short bat: played with somewhat shorter but thicker and much less wide bat (pala in both Basque and Spanish). Uses a rubber ball. In principle, reserved for men.
  • Long bat: played with a longer bat (pala), again thick and not much wide. Uses also a rubber ball but it is played in the long court. In principle, reserved for men.
Long xistera.
Long xistera.
  • Basket: this is the version known in the USA and Macao as Jai Alai. In Basque it's called saski-pilota (literally: basket-ball) and cesta-punta (literally: basket-edge) in Spanish. It uses a special glove that extends into a long pointed curved basket (hence the name), no more than 60cm long in straight line nor 110cm by curved line. The basket (xistera in Basque) was introduced by Gantchiqui Dithurbide from Saint-Pée, France in 1860[2], and its long version by Melchior Curuchage, from Buenos Aires in 1888[2]. Rubber ball. The players use it to catch the ball and propel it back against the main court. The Basque Government promotes it as "the fastest game on Earth", the record being 302 km/h (José Ramón Areitio at the Newport Jai Alai, Rhode Island, USA on 3 August 1979[2]). Again, only for men.
Short xistera.
Short xistera.
  • Remonte: a variant of the above. The basket-glove is shorter and it is allowed to retain the ball momentaneously. Men only.
  • Xare: uses a primitive soft racket. Sare or xare means web in Basque. It is played only in the trinquet court. Men only.
  • Frontenis: a modern Mexican fusion between tennis and Basque ball. It uses tennis rackets in a short court, although the ball has a different surface to the tennis one. Men and women.


Professional games are open to betting on the results, as usual in most traditional Basque competitions.

In the USA and Macao it is mainly this aspect of the competition that has given it some popularity. See: Jai Alai.



  • The game skills have also been used occasionally in combat[3].
  • The Russel Rouse's film Thunder in the Sun, famous for its anachronisms and anthropologic mistakes, shows Basque pioneers in the New World casting stones with their xisteras against Far West Indians.

See also

  • Jai alai
  • Frontenis
  • Trinquete
  • Xare
  • Valencian pilota


  1. ^ Pelota vasca (campeonatos) at Auñamendi Encyclopedia
  2. ^ a b c Libro de los récords Guinness, page 320, 1986 Spanish edition, Ediciones Maeva, ISBN 84-86478-00-6
  3. ^ Picture of a monument in Sare, Pyrenees Atlantiques, France, dedicated to the pilotariak who fought as grenade throwers in both World Wars.

External links

  • International Federation of Basque Pelota
  • "The History of Basque Pelota in the Americas" by Carmelo Urza
  • Pelota vasca in the Spanish-language Auñamendi Encyclopedia, with sections on the game and history.
  • 1959's film Thunder in the Sun in IMDb
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