Up and Away

The Prague Post

The world’s best in Ultimate Frisbee take to the fields – and skies – of Prague to do battle with flying discs

Identifiable flying objects will soon be whizzing across Prague’s skies.

The sport is Ultimate Frisbee, a field game similar to soccer or hockey, but played by passing a Frisbee among teammates. And July 4, the World Ultimate Club Championships begin.

“Ultimate is a team game; the goal of the game is to pass the disc around and reach the opponent’s zone,” said Michal Ševrenko, a player from Prague. “You are not allowed to walk or run with the disc, you must pass it, and no contact is allowed.”

The championships are sponsored by the World Flying Disk Federation (WFDF) and are being put on locally by Ceská asociace létajícího disku (Czech Flying Disc Association), which also hosted the 2001 European Championships. Martina Kacerová is a representative of the organizing committee, and she says the combined success of the European contest and the attractiveness of Prague led to the WFDF awarding these games to the city.

“There will be 136 teams from 38 countries attending,” she said. “There are four divisions: open, mixed, women’s and master’s for players over 33 years old.”

The average age of Ultimate players is about 25, and the game is played on a field half the size of a soccer pitch. Seven players for each side take the field, and the object is to score a goal by catching the disc in your opponent’s end zone. Games are usually played to 17 points and last about 100 minutes. Another interesting aspect of the game is that it is nonrefereed.

“Players know best what happened,” said Kacerová of the concept. “The one who was fouled says foul; if the fouler doesn’t agree, the disc goes back one throw and play continues.”

“It’s quite interesting and works quite well, even at this level,” Ševrenko added. “Players enjoy that they can’t cheat.”

The open division is basically a men’s group; women are allowed but rarely play in it. The mixed group is male and female, with either four men and three women or vice versa on the field for each team. The offense gets to choose the makeup of the teams, and Kacerová says some strategizing goes into making that decision.

“If you have strong women players, you might choose to have more women on the field,” she said.

As typical of any team sport, tactics come into play. Štepán Materna has been playing Ultimate for more than 10 years. He’ll be playing for Czech team “Silence” in the Open division.

“The system for offense is based on using the space. You want some empty space so you can move the disc to the right spot,” he said. “Defense can be man-to-man or zone, depending on the weather conditions. If it’s rainy or windy, zone is better.”

Players have only 10 seconds in which to pass the Frisbee. If a player is unable to, possession goes to the opponent.

Three Czech teams are participating, about 80 players in total. Silence, in the open division; Hot Beaches in the women’s division; and Velká Morava (the team Ševrenko will play for) in the mixed division.

The current world champs are the Buzz Bullets from Japan. Materna notes they are in the same group as Silence, so the two will face off at some point. Top teams usually hail from North America, Japan and Australia, with the best European contenders hailing from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland and Germany. Tickets to the championships are free, and there will be commentary in both Czech and English to keep the crowd clued in to what’s happening on the field.

“Spectators will have the chance to see the best players in the world,” Kacerová said. “There will be about 3,600 players and guests, so it will be a nice atmosphere.”

Another place filled with a Frisbee-heavy atmosphere is Vypálené Kocátko, a Prague 6 café. Owned by Materna, he typically has rotating art exhibitions gracing the walls. Currently, he is showcasing a collection of Frisbees.

“I wanted a promotion for the championships and to give people a chance to think about Frisbees in another way,” he said. “I wrote to all the Czech players and asked if they could loan a disc, and the response was very good.”

All the championship matches will be streamed live over the Internet, and Materna plans to broadcast them at the café as well.