Wed, Nov 28, 2007 - Page 19 News List

FEATURE: Ultimate Frisbee taking off in Asia

AFP , HONG KONG

Athletes compete during the Hong Kong Pan-Asian Ultimate Tournament in Hong Kong on Oct. 28. Ultimate Frisbee is gaining popularity in Asia.

PHOTO: AFP

Yuan Yuan and four of her teammates took a hard sleeper train 1,900km from the northern Chinese city of Tianjin to Hong Kong to spend a weekend chasing after a piece of plastic.

They joined more than 200 diplomats, bankers, students and accountants from across the Asia-Pacific region to play in the annual Hong Kong Pan-Asia Ultimate Tournament, a sport more commonly known as Ultimate Frisbee.

The game, invented around 40 years ago by a group of students in New Jersey -- the founders were said to have named it as they did because they believed it was the "ultimate" sport -- has spread rapidly across Asia in the past decade.

Now it is showing signs of moving beyond the preserve of disc-chasing expats to become a genuinely popular sport among local residents.

China recently held its first national championships. The Philippine capital Manila runs a league with around 17 teams, including a squad of fishermen from Boracay who fly in every weekend to play. And Japan has what is believed to be the world's only semi-professional team.

"We have around 50 people playing in our team at university," Yuan said at last month's tournament. "We got interested in the game and learnt it from a DVD first of all and then a Beijing player came to Tianjin and helped us some more. This is our first time to Hong Kong and everybody has been incredibly friendly."

The cost of the five players' journey from northern China to Hong Kong was paid for by international business software provider BEA, one of a growing number of sponsors who are taking an interest in the game.

Ultimate, which is often referred to simply as "disc" by aficionados, is a seven-a-side game played on a field the size of a soccer pitch.

Players are forbidden from running with the Frisbee and secure a point by catching the disc in the opposition endzone, as in American Football.

If the disc, which has a specific weight and dimensions, is grounded or intercepted, the opposing team attacks the other endzone. The game is played by men and women, often in mixed teams.

What really makes "ultimate" stand out from other sports is the absence of a referee.

Even in international competition, fouls are called by players and any disputes are decided by discussion, part of an abstract sense of fair play called "the spirit."

This emphasis on playing fairly and respecting opponents is at the centre of the game, has transferred well across cultures and is part of the attraction for local players.

"The sense of spirit -- and the partying -- definitely had an impact on the game's development in Manila," said Erik Waldie, a Canadian MBA student in Manila who moved to the Philippines to be with his girlfriend, who he met at an ultimate tournament.

Ultimate Frisbee couples are not unusual.

"Filipinos are a pretty jovial bunch and this fitted very well," Waldie said.

As well as Japan, the Philippines and Singapore have come closest to emulating the organized leagues that are found in many North American cities.

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