‘This isn’t for competitive people, they should just keep on walking.’ Just as a breathless, sweat-soaked Canadian player says this to us on the sidelines of a semi-fierce game of ultimate frisbee, one of his compatriots launches himself and rolls to the floor to take a particularly dramatic catch. ‘Come on!’ he screams, holding the Frisbee like a plastic Grecian discus and basking in the affirmative noises from his team.
He’s just scored in a game without rules. Ultimate Frisbee could be the most easy-going game in existence: no referee, two teams of seven and the only real rule is that when you catch that plastic disc, don’t run. Score by catching deep in the opponent catch zone and stay on-pitch for as long as your red face can hack it. That’s it.
Developed in the heady days of ’60s America (where else?) Ultimate Frisbee has garnered something of a cult following in Dubai. ‘I got to get in some ‘ultimate’ before heading home,’ says one American expat to us before high-fiving a subbed teammate and sprinting on to the pitch. The sport manages to draw a consistently strong crowd of equally easy-going sorts to a floodlit softball field off Sheikh Zayed Road, even at the height of summer.
Ultimate frisbee was the league that Duplays launched with last year, and it has since established a number of other very relaxed, popular leagues in both Dubai and the capital. The team hopes to continue the sport throughout much of the summer as one of its ‘Sauna’ leagues. A lot of the games that Duplays hosts tend towards the pick-up-and-play variety: simple rules, sociable leagues, which present little to no chance of staggering off the pitch with a work-interfering injury. That means touch rugby, dodgeball and ultimate frisbee are in, along with American flag football, a ligament-friendly answer to American football.
Brian Sigafoos, one of the Duplays team, explains the attraction of a game like this. ‘It’s excellent cardio, it’s easy and the nature of the game makes it very team-orientated.’ Brian is surprised that we’ve never heard of it before. ‘This is big in the States,’ he insists. ‘It even makes TV in some places. Late night TV.’
Despite this, it is an entertaining game to watch. A little like netball in that players must remain rooted to the spot before passing, the focus is on constantly scoping out and moving into space to receive a pass. No tackling means that, to get hold of the Frisbee demands constant lookout for interception at all times and plenty of wild running around, hence the cardio workout.
After a little hanging about on the side of the pitch Time Out is eventually called in as a sub and joins the McLovin’ team. While there are some clear frisbee-fanatics on the team, the game’s lack of technicality means that you forget yourself enough to get into the game, very quickly, and also that you’ve been charging around for the best part of 10 minutes. It’s also interesting to play a game without a referee. Halfway through the second half one of McLovin’ takes a step with the frisbee in hand. Before any calls of travelling can start the player has already held up his hand and handed the frisbee over to the opposition.
Gasping for breath in the late evening heat, we sub ourselves off and return to where Brian is on the sidelines. ‘You’re supposed to call it yourself,’ he tells us. ‘It’s a sportsmanship thing. Without a ref it’s got to be your own responsibility to call it when you’re travelling.’
And if you, you know, decide not to? ‘Well then you talk it out on the pitch. If the opposition thinks you travelled, and you don’t, then you discuss it and try and work it out.’
It all sounds a little odd to us, like some relic from the Montessori school of sports. But, sure enough, after Brian has explained this we spot one such tussle happening and both opposition and the offending player launch into a very civilised, 30 second parley of ‘Did I? I’m not sure I did. Hmm, maybe I did, I just don’t know.’ To which, it’s decided that the player did in fact take a daring little step with the frisbee and the disc is handed over. No problems, no arguments. Got to love America, eh?