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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

Why China is Falling in Love With Ultimate Frisbee

Updated: May 29, 2019

A Popular Sport in Western Countries

Ultimate Frisbee is played in mixed 7-a-side teams (4/5 men and 2/3 women), on pitches approximately 37 meters wide and 120 meters long, with a 15-meter end zone at each end. The aim of the game is to pass the disc into the end zone, scoring 1 point. Possession can be lost through incomplete passes, stepping out of bounds or via interception.

In the US, Ultimate is one of the more popular college sports with over 14,000 student-athletes regularly playing the sport. There is also a semi-professional league, where 24 teams from both the US and Canada compete in 4 divisions. A global governing body, the World Flying Disc Federation, curates the rules and sanctions both the WFDF World Ultimate Club Championships and the WFDF World Ultimate and Guts Championships.

The Ultimate Team Sport

Teamwork is crucial to success in Ultimate. Unlike football or basketball players cannot run with the Frisbee so teamwork and making effort to get open are crucial. As such, it is the level of team effort, not the strength of its star players that ultimately determines how far a team can go.

Ultimate games have always been self-officiated, there are no umpires or officials. When one team calls a foul, the opposing team has a choice of whether to contest the call. At the very top level, two “observers” are present to hear appeals and help reach a verdict when necessary.

The Rising Popularity in China

In the world’s most populous country, the game is growing at an astonishing pace. The Chinese have traditionally favoured sports that are more technically demanding, such as table tennis and badminton. Ultimate requires just as much wrist movement, throwing precision, and accuracy. The fact that the game is usually played with mixed teams also helps satiate young Chinese’ need to socialise and meet with people their own age. The increasing number of foreigners moving to China to teach at international schools is also helping to solidify the playing base.

The first China Open was held in Tianjin in 2007, with only 6 teams participating. Today, spring and autumn leagues can be found in Shanghai, arguably the home of Ultimate in China. Weekend-long tournaments are held year-round all across the country and the China Open recently celebrated its 11th birthday in Nanjing. The tournament attracted 23 teams, including one from Hong Kong.

The majority of players first found the sport in the US or Europe, a group that is able and willing to spend on their sport. Not surprisingly, consumption of cleats, protection braces, gloves, hats, and most importantly, Ultimate discs, has only accelerated over the last three years. The huge business potential has not gone amiss, as Chinese Ultimate brands such as X-COM and YIKUN have emerged and have been making big strides both domestically and internationally.

An Olympic Sport?

News broke in 2015 that flying disc sports, including Ultimate Frisbee, have now gained official recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The game is now eyeing inclusion in the 2024 Summer Olympics which will be hosted by either Los Angeles or Paris, the former being a famous hotbed of the sport. It certainly doesn’t hurt the game’s chances that the IOC’s sports department reportedly plays a regular Ultimate pickup game after its lunch meetings.

The fact that the game is being considered as an Olympic sport itself is encouraging enough for Ultimate lovers all over the world. China is known for its passion for Olympic success, and as such the likelihood of increased funding, from both government and private sources, increases a vast amount with Olympic recognition. Certainly, the sport’s future as a predominantly recreational one will change should it be included.

Mailman is a China sports digital marketing agency. We help global rights holders, athletes, and leagues build a successful business in China.

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