Basque Pelota - a unique racquet and ball game

Have you ever heard of the sport called Basque Pelota? In case your answer is no, then no issue. This article explains you in detail about this ancient but unique sport, which is supposed to have originated in Greece and its neighbourhood.

Origin of the Basque Pelota

The origin of this unique sport can be traced back to the 13th century in ancient Greece. Its more modern version could be traced to 18th century in Basque country. The first recorded matches took place in the Napoleonic times. As on today, it is played in a few European countries like Spain and France. It is most popular in Basque country, an autonomous region in Spain and some parts of France. In the Basque country the sport evolved into a different style. Instead of playing face to face, the players used to fling the ball against a wall. Basque Pelota is also played in some Latin American countries like Cuba, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Mexico and Uruguay. In the Latin American region and in the southern parts of the United States, the sport is known by the name Jai Alai.

What's this sport all about?

The way this sport is played, it has one similarity with the game of squash. Just like in a squash court, Basque Pelota is played by striking or propelling a hard ball against a wall. The opponent player plays the ball after it has rebounded from the wall. The similarity to squash ends here. The court where this sport is played, is a lot bigger than a squash court. The racquets are all different, the ball in Basque Pelota has to travel a longer distance, that too at a very high seed. The speed sometimes reaches even 200 kmph. Because of such high speeds, the game is often considered as the fastest sport in the world. It can be quite dangerous too, as the speeding ball may strike on the head and can sometimes prove fatal. That's why the players always wear a safety helmet and safety glasses while playing the game. Though it is mainly a ball and racquet sport, there are plenty of variations in the game. Depending upon the type of game, instead of a racquet, a player can also use his hand, a wooden bat or a basket kind of racquet. The wall against which the ball is struck is called frontis or fronton. The game is usually played between two teams comprising of two players each. Traditionally the two teams used to face each other across a line or a net. But in the modern versions, the two teams don't face each other. Instead they face a wall and share the same playing arena.

How the game is played?

Both the teams get to play on the same playing arena. The serving team bounces the ball and flings it towards the wall with a racquet. There are two lines on the wall, the low line and the high line. The ball has to rebound after striking the wall between the two lines. After the ball has rebounded correctly into the playing arena, the opponent team may either directly play the ball after immediate rebound from the wall or it may play it after the ball rebounds from the playing surface once.


Just like most other racquet sports, the teams win a point if the opposing team fails to return the ball correctly. The rules for the scoring are as follows: A team scores, when
  1. The opponent team is unable to play the ball after it has rebounded off the playing floor once.
  2. The ball after rebounding from the wall, rebounds off the playing floor and bounces outside the playing arena.
  3. The opponent team plays the ball correctly, but hits the wall either below the low line or above the high line.
  4. The opponent team plays the ball, but the ball doesn't reach the wall.

Playing arena

There are variations in the court too. They vary as per the number of walls in the court and by the dimensions of the court. The sport is usually played in a two walled court, the front wall and a side wall. However in some places it is played on a one wall court. Trinquet is a kind of court where there is a front wall, a left side wall, a glass wall on the right and a back wall. Trinquet can vary in size from 8.5 - 11 mtr wide to 45 - 60 mtr in length.

The ball

Depending upon the discipline the ball is of different weight, size and material. In French it is called une pelote and in Spanish, una pelota. The core of the ball is a hard material over which wool is wrapped around, giving it a spherical shape. The outer covering is done by a layer or two of leather. The ball as mentioned above is propelled at a very high speed.

Variations of Basque Pelota

The sport is controlled by a governing body, The International Federation of Basque Pelota, which has some standard rules for the different varieties of the game. The sport has been standardized to 4 modalities and 14 disciplines. The governing body fixes the size of the court and the weight of the balls. The Basque Pelota sport has many variations, some of which are as follows:
  • Valencian Pilota – This version of the sport is played mainly in Valencia in Spain. It is played with bare hands. The teams face each other across a net or a line. The number of players in each team can range up to five in number.
  • Valencian Fronto – It is a modified version of the Valencia pilota. Here the teams don't stand opposite to each other. Instead they stand on the same playing area and face a wall in a 3 wall court. The number of players can at the most be two.
  • Jai Alai – Popular in many Latin American countries, it is played with a hook shaped racquet. It is played in a court with walls on three sides - front, left and back.
  • Frontenis – This version of Basque Pelota originated in Mexico. It is played with the help of racquets, mostly tennis racquets and a rubber ball. It is played in a 3 wall court.
  • International Fronton – In this sport the ball is struck with bare hands. The sport uses only one wall. It follows rules adapted from different ball games.
  • Xare – It is a discipline of Basque Pelota, played with a racquet and a ball in a court called trinquet. The sport is popular in the South American countries. The strings of the racquet are not tight. Instead of striking hard, the racquet is used for catching the ball and then throwing it hard.

International events

The International Federation of Basque Pelota has been conducting world championships since the year 1952. France and Spain are the leading countries who have won most of the medals. As far as Olympics are concerned, only once was it played officially in the Paris Olympics in 1900. Thrice it was played as a demonstration sport in 1924, 1968 and 1992 olympics.

Article by Dhruv
Dhruv is an electrical engineer by profession. Apart from liking his job, he has a special love for writing and has often dabbled in writing scripts for skits and short plays. As a Content Developer at ISC, Dhruv is having a whale of a time, showcasing his writing skills.

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