Sport

Dan Rule on the lure of the hovering frisbee and the spirit of fair play. By Jack Kerr.
Credit: JACK KERR

It’s catching: Dan Rule, 29, ultimate frisbee player

Ultimate is self-refereed. It’s the only sport bar golf that is. So it’s the only team sport in the world that’s run at the top level without an official. The game only works when people play fairly. But the culture in the sport is one of fair play. The sport was built like this when it started in the ’60s, on this counterculture. Ultimate means ultimate spirit of the game. Everyone wants to win, but they want to win fairly. The ultimate thing you could do is to not just win the gold medal, but to also win the Spirit of the Game World Championship.

The game runs on an honour code. If someone gets fouled, they need to sort out with the other player involved what’s the most fair outcome for play to continue. One of the real strengths of the sport is we bring a world community together – it’s like 65 countries, five or six million people – and there are conflicts being resolved on the field by real people who are invested in the outcome, but they’re playing fairly. It’s small-level stuff, but that’s not happening anywhere else.

This is what the Olympic Committee likes about our sport. There’s a lot of controversy in the Olympics to do with doping and cheating in different ways. In ultimate, because we are governed by the players, there’s an honour code and it’s ingrained from day one. I’m not saying things could never happen in ultimate, but I think there’s maybe a culture problem in some other sports. We’ve just approached it from a different angle from day one. It’s different. That spirit of the game component is why I’m involved.

There are huge controversies. Maybe you’d call them arguments. If you were to go for a catch and someone hit your hand and prevented you from catching the frisbee, you’d call foul. They’d either say, “That’s true, I did. It’s your frisbee, you take it” or “I disagree. I don’t think that was the case, I think you dropped it.” But if there’s an argument, it gets resolved by going back to the last person who threw the frisbee.

The mixed competition is the pinnacle for us. That’s unusual, very much so. For us, there’s a great aspect about gender equality within our sport and displaying that through the way we play, not just what we say. There is a spot for everyone. So gender doesn’t really matter.

There are people with agendas that put certain sports on TV and in the paper. Men’s sport gets all the money and attention. But we’re always promoting men’s, women’s, mixed. A bunch of sports could think about the mixed component. It’s a way of showing equality and equity, putting men and women on a field as equals together. I don’t think anything can go wrong with that. I think it’s a great way for sport to go.

Ultimate is like gridiron crossed with netball. So all the play looks like American football, but it’s more fluid. As soon as there’s a turnover, the other team just picks it up. Really quick transition – we’re not subbing everyone out and bringing in a new line of people midpoint. And it’s like netball in that you can’t run with the frisbee. Everyone is allowed to run everywhere. Conversations always start with, “How do you play?”, but the rules aren’t too complicated.

It’s a magical thing, the frisbee. The way it can be hovering in front of you. Someone could throw it 50 metres away and you could still run and catch it. It’s special, that component. Balls don’t fly like that. It’s a real lure, the way the frisbee flies, that draws people to the game.

Frisbee is trademarked, so officially, the sport is just “ultimate”. And we don’t actually use a Frisbee™ for the game. We use a different brand. There’s a little bit of debate within the frisbee – I mean ultimate – community about the use of that word. No one really knows what “ultimate” is, unless you’re involved already. The national body is the Australian Flying Disc Association, and that incorporates a number of sports – like disc golf and distance competitions.  

We’re just at the start of the road for the World Games in Poland next year. That’s a multisport event, run by the Olympics, but with a bunch of different niche sports – like korfball, different sorts of martial arts, rugby sevens was there until it got elevated to the Olympics. The Olympic Committee runs the World Games as a way for those sports to get some exposure. Some sports move into the Olympics. Some drop back.

 

This week’s highlights…

AFL: Grand final – Sydney Swans v Western Bulldogs

Saturday, 2.30pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

Horseracing: Turnbull Stakes Day

Sunday, first race 12.10pm (AEDT), Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne 

NRL: Grand final – Melbourne Storm v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

Sunday, 7.15pm (AEDT), ANZ Stadium, Sydney 

Motorsport: Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix

Sunday, 4pm (AEDT), Seping International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur

Cricket: Australia v South Africa, second ODI

Sunday, 7pm (AEDT), New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg

• Golf: Ryder Cup – final day

Monday, 3am (AEDT), Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minnesota

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 1, 2016 as "It’s catching". Subscribe here.

Jack Kerr
is a journalist and documentary maker.