Frisbee has come a long way, from being a game children played at picnics to a competitive sport today. The World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF), the international governing body for the sport, organizes tournaments such as the World Championships of Beach Ultimate. This year, for the first time, a team from India will participate in the third edition of the tournament, to be held in Italy from 21-28 August.
Manu Karan, one of the Indian team players and president of the Chennai Ultimate association, says: “The sport has been gaining in popularity in India since 2001 but has only really picked up in the last three years. While we now have over 17 other regional teams, there’s still no government recognition and we get no support or sponsorship. But people put aside their time and money because of the love of the game.”
The WFDF recognizes the Flying Disc Federation of India (FDFI), a non-governmental body that is trying to promote the sport in India. The rules of Ultimate are a little like basketball—you can’t run while holding the frisbee, so the other players must get into position, and the frisbee must remain in the air till you score a goal. Then you swap sides, and start over. There are many more rules—about passing, what to do if the disc goes out of bounds, blocking and contact—and while the WFDF lays down the rules, the game is played without referees even at international tournaments.
Abhinav Vinayakh S., another player headed to Italy, says: “The spirit of the game is an important part of the philosophy behind Ultimate. In line with the ‘spirit of the game’, all Ultimate players believe that they should win because of superior speed, skill and stamina, and not because they could cheat, sledge or bully their opponents. The best part is that it works. Beautifully!”
Growing circle: There are now 18 regional disc sport teams in India. Nathan G/Mint
Mahesh Tripathi, coach at FDFI, explains that the organization has been recognized since 2002, and has been adding variants of the game. Ultimate was one of the last to be added, but it quickly became the most popular. He says: “We see 300-350 new players register every year across the country. This is a good sign for such a new sport. Ultimate gets the most interest because it’s a competitive team game, but we want to promote all the different flying-disc games, like disc golf, guts and field events for distance and accuracy.”
Vinayakh says lack of sponsorship makes it hard to promote the game. “The players are self-funded at the moment. Each one is spending close to Rs 1 lakh out of their own pocket to travel to the world championships. They are also paying for their accommodation, flight tickets and team T-shirts, etc.”
This means that the pool of Indian players who can participate in international tournaments is limited as of now.
Dushyant Gadhia, co-director of the Ahmedabad Ultimate, is also a member of the Indian Ultimate League (IUL), which includes the 18 teams from around the country. Gadhia talks about the positive impact of the game: “The game is easy to learn, and promotes a spirit of fair play and team spirit. It only needs a flying disc, and no more equipment. For children in small towns, this is an excellent opportunity.”
Preetham Kajekar, secretary, the Karnataka Ultimate Players Association, agrees. “While the game is still changing—in some tournaments there are now two observers who can mediate when people don’t agree about a foul—there are a lot of people who never want to see a referee on the field. The game is built around enthusiasm and sportsmanship. That is why it’s growing quickly. People see that everyone is here to have fun, and even in competitive games, there are few disagreements about foul calls.”