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City Weekend

Hongkongers getting serious about ultimate frisbee, despite the limitations

More and more locals are finding the space and time to have a go at the Olympic-recognised sport

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 February, 2017, 11:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 February, 2017, 11:01am

Frisbees soaring across green fields are a rare sight in a crowded metropolis like Hong Kong.

But it may become far more common, with the Hong Kong Ultimate Players Association (HKUPA) promoting the sport of ultimate frisbee around the city.

The association’s membership almost doubled between 2014 and 2016, and now comprises some 200 members. But despite the growth, the Olympic-recognised sport remains very much male-dominated in Hong Kong, with just one thrid of HKUPA’s membership being women.

While most ultimate frisbee teams across Asia are mixed-gender, the HKUPA has decided to host its first split-gender tournament this year. By doing so, the association hopes to empower women who may find their growth in the sport has been limited in mixed-gender teams.

It’s the lifestyle more than the sport that people come for
Nicholas Tsao

“There’s been a movement of sorts,” HKUPA president Kevin Ho said. “A lot of women in Asia are getting really excited about the idea of playing women-only ultimate, so you have teams springing up in China, the Philippines and Singapore.”

Eventually, the association hopes to host a split-gender season during one half of the year, and a mixed-gender season during the other half – similar to countries such as Australia, Ho said.

Nicholas Tsao, development director for HKUPA, said the sport in Hong Kong had expanded in recent years. It started as a single group of expatriates some 21 years ago, and now includes members from the local community, particularly from schools.

HKUPA hosts three major events during the year: the Hong Kong Cup tournament with teams from across Asia, the Hong Kong Beach Hat casual tournament at Discovery Bay, and the Hong Kong Pan-Asia Tournament – the “crown jewel” of the group’s competitive season.

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But while interest in ultimate frisbee is rising across Asia, Hong Kong has not seen the same rapid uptake, largely due to the limited open spaces available, Ho said.

“At all levels of the game in Hong Kong, it’s pretty difficult to secure field space in order to train and to practise,” he said. “Obviously Hong Kong does not have a lot of grass, so you can’t just go to the park and throw a frisbee with your mates on the weekend.”

But there are other limitations in addition to space. Hong Kong students are under a lot of pressure to do well in school, which inhibits their potential to play such sports, Ho said.

Nevertheless, it’s the sport’s unique sense of sportsmanship and its self-officiation model that draws interest, he explained.

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“It gives players a responsibility with regards to how they conduct themselves on the field,” he said. “They must try to separate themselves from the emotion of the moment, respect opponents and their views, and be able to communicate effectively.”

But as ultimate frisbee is taken increasingly more seriously here, the aim of most tournaments is still to have fun, Ho said.

People wear costumes and give their teams playful names. One Singaporean team called itself “shiok”, which is slang for “cool”, while a mainland team called itself “Chairman Xiongmao ”, which is a reference to the Putonghua word for “panda”.

“It’s the lifestyle more than the sport that people come for,” Tsao said.