(ATR) - Flying disc is on the program for the inaugural World Urban Games in Budapest next month and again at the World Games 2021 in Birmingham, Alabama. It was recognized by the IOC in 2013. But the sport is more than tossing a plastic disc around -- disciplines include Ultimate (Grass & Beach), Disc Golf, Freestyle, Guts, and Overall.
Around the Rings discussed frisbee's future with WFDF Pres. Robert "Nob" Rauch, who was a competitive Ultimate player from 1976 to 1994. Rauch first served as president from 1992 to 1994 before returning to the top spot in 2011.
In a wide-ranging email interview, ATR discussed everything from the federation's hopes for Olympic glory to gender equality to its plans for growth.
ATR - Flying disc is one of the world's most popular sports. All you need is a disc -- "frisbee" -- and room to run. That and the fact that men and women can play seems like it would be an ideal sport for the Olympics. What do you emphasize as your most appealing feature when you discuss winning a spot on the Olympic program?
RR - There are something like 800 million flying discs, or frisbees, that have been produced since the first discs were produced out of plastic in 1948.
Recreationally, toymaker Mattell estimates that 90% of Americans have played frisbee at some time in their lives and close to a billion people across the globe have tossed a disc for fun at some point. WFDF estimates that there are around 10 million athletes who play a competitive flying disc sport today.
When we think of our potential to become a part of the Olympic programme, we believe that our most compelling arguments are our appeal to youth, our gender equality, the ease for spectators to understand the game, and the fun of watching the disc floating through the air, with deep throws and layout catches.
ATR - How do you position your sport in terms of being part of the program?
RR - We were originally recognized by the IOC in 2013 and believe that Ultimate, our showcase flying disc discipline, fully meets the objectives outlined in Agenda 2020. We have youth appeal, with active play at the school, university, and young adult levels. Our featured division of play at the World Games and at World Championships, mixed gender, addresses one of the near-vacuums in the Programme.
We are an accessible sport, given our low cost and the minimal equipment – merely a US$10 flying disc – needed to play. We are a sustainable sport, without a need for elaborate apparatus, with the flexibility to be staged on a football pitch or on the beach. We are a universal sport, with organized competition in well over 100 countries and with active member associations in 85 today.
We aspire to the Olympic ideal, with our concept of "spirit of the game," meaning that the game is self-officiated even at the highest level of competition. And finally, in comparison with other "trend" sports, our IF is pretty well organized, with an absence of rivalry issues, and with high scores for governance (we were ranked top three out of 54 IFs in the recent GAISF review of ARISF and AIMS members).
ATR - You recently had your first Women in Sport Commission regional workshop. Why do you think a WISC is necessary? What are the next steps, more regional meetings? What is the ultimate goal for your WIS activities?
RR - WFDF has had a Women in Sport Commission since 2012. Women have competed alongside men in flying disc sports since they were first developed back in 1958, and we have had separate women’s divisions of play since the 1970s.
Our formal mixed gender division of competition was introduced in the second half of the 1990s and it is now our largest and fastest growing division in Ultimate competition. While women represent about 35% of all of our active elite athletes globally, there are still practical, personal, social and cultural obstacles to women’s participation generally in sport, especially in many developing countries around the world, that need to be overcome. We also find these same obstacles in our governance structure, where it is hard to find women willing to take leadership roles; we think we are doing pretty well by having seven women on our 18 member board, but that isn’t good enough.
Our first gender equality conference at our World Ultimate Club Championships in 2018 was held to provide athletes, coaches, and administrators the tools to better foster equality, and it was very well-received, and so we followed this up at our Asian Championships in Shanghai just last month. Our goal is to encourage equity and eventually equality, on the playing field and in our administration, because diversity of perspective and broad representation will make our sport stronger.
ATR - Your calendar shows events all around the world. Where are you looking to grow the sport? Any particular region?
RR - WFDF has a very full calendar this year with nine international events, including our world championships in Disc Golf, Overall, and our Under-24 Ultimate Championships, and six Continental Championships for Ultimate and Beach Ultimate. We also are one of the six competition sports for the inaugural World Urban Games in Budapest and we were a demonstration sport at the African Beach Games in Cape Verde with our discipline of Freestyle.
We are focusing regional development efforts regarding events and member growth particularly in Africa, Asia-Oceania, Eastern Europe, and Central and South America. The most effective tool in our regional development efforts has been to allow new countries to compete in our major continental and World Championship events.
ATR - What about your anti-doping efforts? Flying disc isn't the first sport that comes to mind when it comes to doping.
RR - Indeed, we can confirm that Flying Disc is considered as a low-risk sport by WADA, with the test results to support it.
WFDF has been fully WADA code compliant throughout all the years since we started our Anti-Doping efforts. This includes all components of code compliance: test distribution plans, TUEs, in- and out-of-competition testing, results management, education, and all the other elements which are necessary as per the code. Nonetheless, education remains our primary focus, in keeping with our spirit-of-the-game ethic which assumes that all athletes want to play fair, and so our educational efforts are designed to give them the tools they need to do so.
ATR - What about sponsorships for the federation and your events? New challenges?
RR - Over the last five years we have been able to solidify our endemic sponsorships from providers to our sport: discs, apparel, cleats, other equipment. We do suffer in gaining significant resources as ours is a low cost sport and the sporting kit typically consists of discs, cleats, and a uniform, instead of expensive other equipment or apparatus. We nonetheless view ourselves as having several opportunities at the moment in broadening to the non-endemic sponsor market as our event streaming and broadcast effort has expanded significantly, with several promising leads out of our burgeoning Chinese market.
ATR - Every sport must adapt and change. What do you see ahead for flying disc? New forms of competition?
RR - First of all we continue to look for other multi-sport event opportunities for the disciplines besides our flagships Ultimate and Beach Ultimate, specifically Disc Golf, Freestyle, Overall, and Guts.
We acknowledge very much the need to develop new variations of Ultimate, too, and we have developed five-a-side play (vs 7x7) which is important for age categories under 16 and 18 years in the school sport sector and for Masters age categories for participation in the IMGA World Masters Games. But this model, already the standard with Beach Ultimate, could support our efforts to target Youth Olympic Games and other multi-sport events like TAFISA World Sport for All Games.
ATR - Flying disc is on the World Games program in Birmingham. How important are the World Games to flying disc? Can they help you get onto the Olympic program?
RR - WFDF has postured The World Games as the pinnacle of competition within global Ultimate competition. Our quadrennial Ultimate World Championships are held in the year prior to TWG and we get our best national teams to compete for TWG gold. For us, we have learned a lot about what it takes to be fit to compete in a top echelon multi-sports game through our participation, and we are hopeful that these lessons learned have honed the presentation of our sport to be of a quality fit for the Olympic programme. We are also hopeful that this exposure through The World Games has demonstrated that we will be worthy of consideration for inclusion in the LA 2028 programme, especially with California being the birthplace of the frisbee eighty years prior.
ATR - You have one discipline (Ultimate) in the World Games. Do you hope to expand that to more disciplines?
RR - We think the IWGA has done a great job of balancing their portfolio and maximizing the impact of the depth of their programme with the available resources. Nonetheless, we would certainly like to reestablish Disc Golf (our second most-popular discipline) at the World Games, which were on the programme of the 2001 edition in Akita. With a low athletes’ quota needed for that event, and the ability for WFDF to leave behind a sustainable disc golf course in a local park for the benefit of the community, this might be feasible for Chengdu 2025.
ATR - Anything you would like to say that we haven't asked?
RR - With our strong development focus on Africa, Asia-Oceania, Eastern Europe, and Central and South America, we target 100 member national associations by the end of 2020 and 120 by the end of 2024, from 85 today. Some say this is very optimistic goal, but we have more than two dozen countries where there is currently organized competitive play in our disciplines without a national member association, so we think it can well be achieved without compromising our high level of due diligence review and good governance standards when it comes to considering new membership applications.
Homepage photo by Jolie Lang
Reported by ATR staff.