TIME Sports

Don’t Let the IOC Ruin Ultimate Frisbee

Pittsburgh Central Florida ultimate frisbee
Chris Bernacchi—AP University of Pittsburgh's Ethan Beardsley (28) dives for a disc against Central Florida's Matt Capp (9) during the USA Ultimate Open Division I College National Championship final held in Madison, Wisconsin on May 27, 2013.

Bryan Walsh is the Foreign Editor at TIME, handling international news in the magazine and online. Previously he covered energy and environmental issues for TIME, and was the Tokyo bureau chief in 2006 and 2007.

The International Olympic Committee's decision to recognize the sport could kill what makes it so special

One Friday night in the spring of 1998, I found myself sitting in the front passenger seat of an ancient Toyota Corolla packed with four of my college classmates, somewhere in South Carolina, on the way to an Ultimate Frisbee tournament. Because stereotypes are sometimes true, we were arguing over which Grateful Dead tape to play when the cops pulled us over for speeding. This was concerning—a bunch of vaguely hippieish college students in a car with New Jersey plates getting escorted into a police station in a very small Southern town. And we had a tournament to get to, which is what we patiently explained to the police officer on duty, who kept one eye on the NCAA tournament game playing in the background. An Ultimate Frisbee tournament, where we would compete against other college clubs in Ultimate Frisbee! To which the cop responded, looking at each of us in our Umbro shorts and faded T-shirts: “So which one of you is the dog?”

Go ahead, laugh—Ultimate players are used to it. There’s no getting around the fact that this highly athletic, highly competitive sport involves grown men and women, often wearing extremely silly shirts, running, jumping and diving (sorry—”laying out“) after what is ultimately a child’s toy. Or that even Ultimate games played at the very highest of levels often go unrefereed, with players instead calling their own fouls and settling any disagreements through on-field discussions that sometimes end only slightly quicker than the U.S.-Iran nuclear talks. Or that college Ultimate clubs—of which there are now more than 700 throughout North America—have names like Süperfly (Yale, which of course adds the umlaut); Army of Darkness (the wild men of Amherst); Nun Betta (Catholic University, and hats off to them); or the Apes of Wrath (University of Oklahoma by way of Steinbeck). Or that matches often end with each team improvising a cheer for the other—the more NSFW the better, which is something I must say that the Clockwork Orange at Princeton University excelled at during my time there, even if we were less great at the actual winning.

The point is that Ultimate is, at its heart, a goofy, spirited sport, even if it’s often played by very serious and very athletic people. (If you doubt the latter, check out this highlight reel from the legendary—within Ultimate, at least—Brodie Smith.) The actual 10th commandment of the sport makes it clear—Ultimate is about “the basic joy of play.” No coaches! No referees! No pressure! That was what attracted to me the sport when I was a college freshman burned out from playing varsity sports in high school. (Well, that and access to 21-year-old teammates who could buy beer.) We had fun! We had discs—no one calls them Frisbees, FYI—that had Malcolm McDowell’s mascaraed eye from the Clockwork Orange movie emblazoned on them! And absolutely no one thought that Ultimate would lead to anything but playing Ultimate.

And that’s why the news that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had decided to recognize Ultimate Frisbee—or rather, the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF), the closest thing the sport has to a governing body—has left me concerned. There’s a simple reason: the IOC, which is prevented from being the most corrupt body in international sport only by the existence of FIFA, has the unique ability to suck the life out of sport. While I’m all for the best players in the Ultimate world getting a chance to represent their country at the Olympic Games—although, guys, watch out for the drug testing—the sheer bureaucracy of the IOC, and the increasing commercialism of the Games themselves, go against the spirit of Ultimate. This is a sport with rules only slightly more complicated than those of checkers. The first ever game of Ultimate was played by New Jersey high schoolers in 1968, and it pitted the student council against the student newspaper. (And the journalists won!) Ultimate belongs to the people, not the sportocrats of Lausanne.

Of course, Ultimate still has a long road to go before you’re watching Olympians hucking and pulling and flicking. Just ask billiards, netball and waterskiing, all sports recognized by the IOC that aren’t close to actually making the Olympics. But in a world where commercial values trump sporting ones, and the only countries that seem eager to host the Olympics are authoritarian ones, inclusion in the Games with its winner-take-all attitude could dilute what makes Ultimate so special. I call foul.

Walsh was a member of Princeton’s Clockwork Orange Ultimate club team from the fall of 1997 to the spring of 1999, when he quit because they started doing wind sprints in practice. Wind sprints!

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME portfolio

Documenting the Hard Life in Russia’s Frozen Arctic

“The Arctic is like a blank sheet on which you could see all the tensions of Russia played out."

The Soviet Union was known for its doublespeak, but when Moscow bureaucrats called the 7,000-km area of the Russian Arctic the “zone of absolute discomfort,” they were speaking the truth. Temperatures in the settlements of the far north, which spans from Alaska to Finland, can dip below –45°C in the winter. Living conditions are wretched, which is one reason Stalin used these towns as gulags. Descendants of some of the prisoners still live in these Arctic communities. Among the people who seem adapted to the conditions are the indigenous herders known as Nenets, who live in tents called chums.

Yet there are billions of tons of oil and natural gas locked beneath the permafrost—a fact that has drawn a new wave of workers to the Arctic, as the photographer Justin Jin documents. It’s not an easy place to work as a photographer—Jin once got frostbite from the cold metal of his camera pressed against his face—but the material is worth it. “The Arctic is like a blank sheet on which you could see all the tensions of Russia played out,” says Jin, who has worked in Russia for years. “You have the extreme expanse of space, the endless nature, the riches trapped in the tundra. It’s all the contradictions and juxtapositions of Russia.”

Justin Jin is a documentary photographer based in Belgium.

Bryan Walsh is TIME’s Foreign Editor.

TIME Apache

#theBrief: The Battle for Apache Land

The land swap was hidden in the defense spending bill's "rider"

In December 2014, Congress passed the defense spending bill. And amid all the talks about expansion of military power and the treatment of suspected terrorists, one thing — totally unrelated to national defense — was able to slip through the cracks: the selling of sacred Apache land to an Australian mining company.

Now, Arizona Apache Indians are occupying that land in protest. And tribal leader Terry Rambler said the swap is a gross violation of Apache rights.

In 1955, President Eisenhower put forth an executive order protecting the land from mining and in 1971, President Nixon renewed the order.

So how did Congress manage to pass the land swap bill? TIME Foreign Editor Bryan Walsh explains in the above video.

TIME Foreign Policy

What’s Wrong With U.S. Foreign Policy?

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt speaks on technology on March 18, 2015 at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.
Nicholas Kamm—AFP/Getty Images Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt speaks on technology on March 18, 2015 at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.

Identifying the major challenges as America navigates a new world

In this week’s issue — and at greater length in his new book, Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World — TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer diagnoses the drift that has afflicted U.S. foreign policy, and the desperate need for a new direction. Bremmer has a few ideas himself, but he also reached out to major figures in international business and government to ask them to complete this sentence:

The biggest problem in American foreign policy today is …

“The growing trend toward isolationism given seemingly endless frustrations with the world.” —Admiral James G. Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

“Maintaining domestic support for American underwriting of an open global system.” —Larry Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary

“[That] we focus on states but need a strategy for people too.” —Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation

“[That] we have substituted comprehensive foreign policy with reactive, improvisational tactics.” —Greg Brown, CEO of Motorola

“[There is] no national alignment, and a leadership vacuum on where we’re going and how to get there.” —Jack Welch, former CEO of GE

“Our inability to develop a bipartisan national strategy and stick with it.” —Jon Huntsman, former U.S. ambassador to China

“Short-term partisanship and a lack of long-term strategy.” —Joseph Nye, former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

“[That] American politics can’t resolve what global power America should be.” —Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia

“That it seems to be stuck between self-doubt and stupidity.” —Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times

“A world in which disruptive non-state actors are as prominent as nation states.” —Mohamed el-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz

“The absence of policy consensus coupled with domestic political dysfunction.” —Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations

“A bipartisanship deficit, obscuring national strengths and undermining global leadership.” —William Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

“The lack of prioritization and dedication.” —Javier Solana, former Spanish Foreign Minister

“Our failure to understand how quickly order collapses into chaos.” —Robert Kagan, senior fellow, Brookings Institution

“Believing that there is a U.S.-imposed solution to every problem.” —P. Chidambaram, former Indian Finance Minister

“Reallocating resources [and] leadership from 20th century legacies to address today’s realities.” —Dominic Barton, managing director of McKinsey

“[That] no one totals the immense costs in lives and money accurately.” —Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google

“Finding unifying, organizing principles for dealing with a diverse, multipolar world.” —Gary Hart, former U.S. Senator

“Domestic politics/system which impedes development/execution of coherent strategy.” —K. Shanmugam, Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs

“To help reduce geopolitical risks in a period of growing uncertainty and danger in the world system.” —Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil

“The difficulty of focusing on the important rather than the urgent.” —Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS

“Not overreacting to terrorism.” —Francis Fukuyama, political scientist and the author of The End of History and the Last Man

“Credibility.” —Jacques Attali, economist and first president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

TIME World

#TheBrief: Who Is Responsible for Migrants Who Seek Asylum?

Who is responsible for migrants seeking asylum? Italy? Or the European Union?

At least 700 refugees are feared dead after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya.

With countries in Europe closing up borders to prevent the influx of refugees fleeing war and conflict, migrants—mostly from Syria and Eritrea, but also from sub-Saharan Africa—are opting for the risky voyage across the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy.

From Italy, they travel to countries like Spain, Greece, and the U.K.—all in search for asylum and better job opportunities.

But it could come at a price.

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