Loosen up your vocal cords to cheer on the Chinese national Ultimate teams as the 2019 Asia Oceanic Ultimate and Guts Championships (AOUGC) flies into the city for its first-ever China appearance this month.
Hosted every four years by the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF), the cross-continental event brings together 28 teams from all over the region – from India to Australia – to throw down for the championship title.
This summer, the action will be going down at both the Luwan Stadium Sports Centre and Shanghai Community Sports Club (SCSC) from Tuesday 23 through Saturday 27 July, bringing five days of flying discs, hammer throws and diving catches across Men's, Women's and Mixed team games (with up to five Guts teams in the mix, too).
Photograph: Robert Engelbrecht courtesy WFDF 2019 AOUGC
For anyone thinking, 'Wait… rewind. What's Ultimate, anyways?', here's the knowledge drop.
Imagine what happens when Frisbee meets American football (without all the contact and gear) and basketball, and you've got Ultimate. The non-contact team sport has seven players a side whose mission is to get the Frisbee down the pitch and into the opposite team's end zone.
Known for being a grassroots sport, Ultimate is basically entirely led by the players. As Shanghai Women's team, the Shanghai Sirens, coach Adam Lerman puts it, 'Even if you have a coach – which a lot of teams originally didn't – in general they're almost subordinate to the captains and player leadership... [Also] you don't really have referees telling you what to do, so players are responsible for making calls and running the game on their own' – even at the highest levels of play. Perhaps it's not surprising then that Ultimate appeals to people who are turned off by the rigidity of many organised and competitive sports.
Photograph: Carlos Zuluaga
To make the player-led format that defines Ultimate work, it's all about embracing the 'Spirit of the Game' – an essential attitude that everyone is going to play fair. In a sport without external and impartial refs where players make the calls, you can't have bad sportsmanship or people rolling around on the pitch calling foul every five minutes.
Photograph: KUBA VISION
But when there really is a foul, it all comes down to discussion – for which, we're told, there's time built into the game. 'Usually [discussion] works pretty well,' explains Lerman. 'There are occasionally times where it's not perfect, obviously, but there is a whole spirit of the game that everyone is going to try to play fairly and trust the other team to play fairly as well.'
Photograph: SHO KUBA VISION
Trying to keep things fair doesn't stop refereeing – when it comes to gender equality, Ultimate is working hard, too. Thanks to a long history of mixed teams, gender equality 'is kind of built into the culture of Ultimate. In this tournament, there's an expectation that all teams – Women's, Men's and Mixed – [across all divisions] will be treated completely equally,' Lerman says. 'What time the finals are scheduled in the tournament or where they play will rotate, so you're not always putting men in the most important position or on the best fields… Everyone is treated the same.'
The WFDF 2019 AOUGC coming to China for the first time is no small feat for the country where the sport is still very young, and Lerman believes it could be a good sign for things to come. 'In China, Frisbee is not [a sport] many people are aware of… So hopefully the tournament is going to be an opportunity to get more Chinese players interested, or just aware of the sport's existence,' he explains.
Photograph: KUBA VISION
'I think it's also a push for better organisation of the Chinese Frisbee community. This is the first time we have real national teams, with a national tryout process…' While it's still early days, for Lerman, the hope is that Ultimate in China is on its way to 'building towards an organisational structure that will allow China to eventually compete with the best countries in the world.' That means initiatives like getting the game into school curriculums or sports universities so players start training from a younger age.
Lerman highlights that as a result of hosting the AOUGC in Shanghai, 'We've got government [sports officials] overseeing the tournament, overseeing our national teams and trying to figure out what it is... Hopefully, this could lead to the Government pushing development starting from the youth level, and that would allow China Frisbee [in the long-term] to develop much, much more quickly.'
Photograph: courtesy Adam Lerman
Still, organisation aside, for Lerman and a lot of players it's all about that spirit. 'A big part about why I continue to be involved with Frisbee is about being able to travel and experience new things and meet new people, and just having the opportunity to... spend time with my players and experience something a little bit different.'
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