Team USA versus Team Japan in the Men's Finals of World Ultimate and Guts Championships in 2016. Photo by Neil Gardner of UltiPhotos.com.
I think I’ve found it. I think I’ve found the Olympic formula for ultimate frisbee. WFDF, USAU, everyone else take note. This is my Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting moment.
World Games + Rugby 7’s + 6v6 = Ultimate in Olympics
Let’s break it down piece by piece.
First, take the World Games setup of using men and women on the teams. Go Mixed. This is an obvious step in getting ultimate into the Olympics. Everything we’ve heard from the two most influential governing bodies in the sport - World Flying Disc Federation and USA Ultimate - suggests that mixed is what’s even allowing ultimate to enter the conversation. [Side-note: Why haven’t the semi-professional leagues moved more to embrace this? Has there been a reason presented that’s legitimately convincing or…?] Then you follow the World Games exclusivity model, with perhaps a bit more of an expansion in number of countries. WUGC 2016 was a great event, that allowed the Matt Mastrouno led production team to tell great stories around the teams and players in attendance. But that many countries at an Olympic event seems like over-kill. In hockey, the IIHF (aka WFDF for hockey) has rules in place that allows 9 teams to qualify automatically - the host country, and the top eight countries in their rankings - and then a tournament that allows every other country to qualify for the last three spots. Maybe that plan is a little too bold for ultimate, but a country on the rise in ultimate (like Norway is in hockey, praise be to Zuccarello) getting a shot at the best of the best while not keeping out an established power, is a win for all.
Next, add in the competition format of rugby 7’s that was showcased at the Rio Olympics. If you aren’t familiar, rugby 7’s was played out in a tournament format, with each team playing multiple games each day on their way to determining who would win the gold medal. One media member described fans cheering for their home-nation during the shortened rugby games that rugby 7’s presents, leaving the stadium when the game was over and enjoying the local restaurants and bars around the stadium, and then enthusiastically arriving back at the stadium for their team’s next game. [This as Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports on the podcast Puck Soup retold it.] So far, major moves to commercialize ultimate has focused on making games more of a one-off affair and less of the tournament format that the vast majority of the ultimate fan base knows (and loves).
Lastly, adjust the number of players on the field so it’s six-aside, three men and three women a piece. Ultimate 6’s. There are several benefits to this move. Gender equity1 is the most important consideration with this move, with teams needing to field that equal number in order to compete at all times. With one less player to field, countries can bring less players. When the Summer Olympics are held once every four years, and take place in London, then Rio, then Japan, while federations and players absorb the costs of travel, that money saved will add up fast. Less players on each roster has another advantage as well: WFDF, the home countries, and the media can focus more on promoting the superstar-talents that take the field because they should see more time on the field with less players to compete with.
So again, take aspects of the World Games, add in the format used by rugby 7’s in Rio, and change the teams to 6 versus 6 and you have the formula to get ultimate into the Olympics.
How do ya like them apples?
1The term gender equity is used here in terms of the current understanding of a mixed roster containing players from the men’s and women’s division by ultimate’s governing bodies and is not meant to slight those who do not identify in those terms.