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Basque pelota
Ustaritz Fronton Pala.jpg
A game of pelote as played in Ustaritz
Highest governing body International Federation of Basque Pelota
Nickname(s) Pelota
First played 13th century
Contact No
Team members Single or doubles
Categorization Hand Sport, Racquet sport, Basket Sport
Equipment Basque pelota ball
Olympic 1900, 1924 (demonstration), 1968 (demonstration), 1992 (demonstration)

Basque pelota (euskal) pilota in Basque, pelota vasca in Spanish, pilota basca in Catalan, and pelote (basque) in French) is the name for a variety of court sports played with a ball using one's hand, a racket, a wooden bat or a basket, against a wall (frontón in Spanish, pilotaleku or pilota plaza 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 tennis (see Jeu de Paume)[citation needed].

The basque term pilota allegedly comes from latin pila (hand-ball).

Today, Basque Pelota is widely played in several countries: in Spain and France, especially in the Basque Country and its neighbour areas. Also the sport is played in Latin American countries such as Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Perú and Uruguay. Operated as a gaming enterprise called Jai Alai, it is seen in parts of the U.S. such as Florida, Nevada and New England.

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, and Argentina.

Since its creation, the International Federation of Basque Pelota has standardised the different varieties into four modalities and fourteen disciplines, with fixed ball weights, rules and court sizes. The four modalities (30m wall, 36m wall, 56m wall and trinquete) admit fourteen disciplines, depending the use of bare hand, leather ball, rubber ball, paleta (pelota paleta), racket (frontennis) and xare. Two of the fourteen disciplines are played by both men and women (frontenis and rubber pelota in trinquete); the other twelve are played only by men.

This allows championship play at the international level, and allows the participation of players and teams from around the world using the same rules.

There is, however, criticism about this, since purists might argue that some of the original traits of each particular modality could be lost.


Basque pelota

Frontoi in Ainhoa (Labourd)

The origin of this sport is tied to the decline of the ancient jeu de paume (jeu de paume au gant), ca. 1700.

While the game evolved to the modern jeu de paume (with racquet, called real tennis in England) and eventually to tennis, rural alpine and pyreneean communities kept the tradition.

In the basque country the "pasaka" and "laxoa", local versions of the paume evolved to the peculiar style of the pilota: instead of playing face to face, with a net in the midfield, the basques began to fling the ball against a wall.

According the basque pilota historian Chipitey Etcheto, the first recorded matchs took place in napoleonic times; it is believed that the game was close to currently rare specialty of "rebot".

The mid-19th century saw the explosion of the "pelota craze".

The player "Gantxiki" is considered the original "father" of the chistera, the basket-shaped racquet which can propel the ball at incredible speeds, introduced around 1850.

The top champions of the end of the 19th century, like "Chiquito de Cambo" were immensely popular and the best paid sportsmen of their time.

The first official competitions were organized in the 1920s, and led to the world championship in the 50's

International projection

Basque pelota was an official Olympic sport once, in the 1900 Paris Games, and a demonstration sport in 1924 (men), 1968 (men) and 1992 (men and women). See also Basque pelota at the 1900 Summer Olympics.

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

Playing area

Playing paleta at the trinquet of Elizondo (Navarre)

Basque pelota is usually played in a two walled court (Basque: frontoi or leku, French: fronton, Spanish: frontón). As seen in the picture, there are also courts with one wall, a modality prevailing on the French side of the Basque Country, some spots of Navarre or at the highly exceptional court of Zubieta in province Gipuzkoa. Yet they are not recognized by the International Federation of Basque Pelota for international tournaments, and usually reserved to joko-garbia and open-air grand chistera games.

Rules (hand pilota)

Basque pelota fronton diagram 1: Side Wall; 2: Front Wall; 3:Ground; 4: Perspective View

The basic principle in hand-pelota is that there are two teams of two players each. The team to serve bounces the ball, then propels it towards the playing area of the narrow, front wall where it has to rebound between the low line demarcating the low off-area and the high line demarcating the high off-area.

The ball may either be played so it rebounds directly off the front wall onto the playing floor or onto the long side wall first. The opposing team may either play the ball immediately after rebounding from the front wall or side wall without rebounding from the playing floor or after having rebounded from the playing floor once.

A team scores by:

  • playing the ball in such a way that the opposing team is unable to play the ball before it has rebounded off the playing floor once.
  • playing the ball in such a way that it rebounds off the front wall and rebounds off the floor outside the playing area.

A team may also score by the opposing team:

  • hitting the front wall but either below the low line or above the high line.
  • hitting the ball in time but failing to reach the front wall.



(Basque: bota-luze, Spanish: 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 pairs (two vs. two). Traditionally and professionally it is reserved for men. Players can be distinguished by the swelling of their hitting hand. It was originally played in the 13th century in the Basque reigon of Spain, and has been played for a long time in Mexico, South America, Cuba, Italy and many US states, including Florida.[citation needed] The sport is similar to squash, players hit the ball against the end wall of a three-sided court, trying to get the ball out of the opponent's reach


Paleta Goma (rubber)

Like paleta balina but played with the "spanish" solid rubber ball.

Paleta Balina (rubber)

Played with a short and wide wooden bat, called paleta in both Spanish and Basque, and a empty rubber ball. It can be played by both men and women. This variety was invented in Argentina and is widely played there, where their male pelotaris used to dominate international competitions.

Argentine Multi-layered Wooden Paleta.

Pala (leather)

This variant played with a bat similar to the previous one but with a traditional leather ball. This game is mainly played by men.

Paleta (short bat)

Is played with somewhat shorter but thicker and much less wide bat (pala ancha). Leather or rubber ball. In principle, reserved for men.

Paleta (long bat)

Is played with a longer bat (pala larga), again thick and not much wide. Leather or rubber ball in the long court. In principle, this game is reserved for men.

Long xistera.

Chistera (basket)

This is the version known outside Europe as Jai-Alai. In Basque it's called xistera (literally: basket) and cesta-punta (literally: edged basket) in Spanish. It uses a special glove that extends into a long pointed curved basket (hence the name), circa 60 cm long in straight line and 110 cm by curved line. The basket (xistera in Basque and chistéra in French) 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] The players use it to catch the rubber ball and propel it back against the main court. The Basque Government claims 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, this game is only for men.



A variant of the above. The basket-glove is shorter and less deep and it is allowed to retain the ball only momentarily. It is often called (in Spanish) "el limpìo" (clean game) in opposition to the abuse of atchiki, typical of the late XIX century style of playing, dubed "el sucìo" (dirty game). This game is for men only.


Similar to joko-garbi, but the xistera is even more flat and don't allow the atchiki foul. This game, like pasaka, laxoa and rebot, is seldom performed

Short xistera.


Uses a simple soft racket (sare or xare meaning "net" in Basque). It is played only in the trinquet court. This game is the favorite for women, and traditionally strong in South American countries.

  • 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 both play this game.

Professional games

Professional games on Basque Country are mainly controlled by Asegarce and ASPE that hold the contract of the tournament players.

In the United States pelota is mainly a professional sport, strongly tied to betting and the pari-mutuel system.

In professional environment is common to play special plays called "quinielas" well adapted to the betting needs.

Main Tournaments

In 1994, the production company Asegarce started painting the courts green so that the ball would be more visible on TV.[3]

Renowned players



Professional games are open to betting on the results, as usual in most traditional Basque competitions. In the USA and Macau it is mainly this aspect of the competition that has given it some popularity. Besides the federations, there are professional competitions such as the League of Companies of Basque Pilota. The International Jai-Alai Players Association is a union defending the players of Jai Alai.

World Championships of Basque Pelota

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

Medal Count

The current historical medal count since 1952 is as follows:[4][5][6]

Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1  France 58 47 35 140
2  Spain 56 61 29 146
3  Argentina 42 23 11 76
4  Mexico 37 34 24 95
5  Uruguay 4 29 13 46
6  Cuba 2 4 9 15
7  United States 0 1 2 3
8  Chile 0 0 6 6

Note 1: Medal count is sorted by total gold medals, then total silver medals, then total bronze medals, then alphabetically.

Note 2: From 1952 to 1970 there wasn't dispute for the bronze medal.

Note 3: The table includes all modalities, including the Plaza Libre event from the 1952 and from the 1958 Basque Pelota World Championships.

Dictionary (basic)

Jo ! (Yo !) : game is on ! Sakea or saque : hit Falta : foul Berriz : repeat Errebote : rebound on rear wall Atxiki : illegal retain Pumpa : "skip" (of pelota from chistera) Ados : draw Ona : good, valid

A la novia : the last point ("to the fiancée")


  • The game skills have also been used occasionally in combat.[3]
  • Philip Leacock's 1956 film, The Spanish Gardener, has a scene of pelota
  • 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.
  • The Italian movie Pari e dispari from 1978 features a pelota match with Bud Spencer.
  • Lenny, Homer Simpson's friend, is shown in an episode to live in a pelota playground.
  • The Basque Ball is a Spanish documentary film about Basque politics that uses pelota as a metaphor.
  • Jørgen Leth made a documentary film about the game, entitled "Pelota".
  • Jai-alai pelota is often seen in "Miami Vice" TV series episodes

See also

Other modalities


External links

Simple English


Pelota in Spanish, pilota in Basque and Catalan, or pelote in French (from Latin pila) is a name for several court sports played with a ball using one's hand, a racket, or a wooden bat (pala), 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 come 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.

Other modalities

Other websites

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