Team Sports

Ultimate Expected to Soar in Popularity Following Acceptance by IOC

12 Aug, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Sanctioning Expected to Boost Sport’s Growth, Tourism Appeal

It’s a long way from a bunch of high school students tossing a Frisbee around and playing keep-away to having that game gain acceptance on the Olympic level, but the sport of Ultimate is no stranger to high-flying changes of pace. And on August 3, that sport – which started on a high school field without formal rules and ultimately (see what we did there?) gained a world governing body and a formal structure – was officially recognized by the IOC at its annual meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

“This is one of the most important things to happen to our great sport in its 46-year history,” said USA Ultimate’s board of directors president Mike Payne,” and further validates Ultimate as one of the nation’s emerging sports.”

Ultimate, once known as Ultimate Frisbee, began in Maplewood, New Jersey, in 1968, according to USA Ultimate’s website. The sport, which combines the non-stop movement and athletic endurance of soccer with the aerial passing skills of football, has the unique distinction of using self-officiating, even at the highest levels of competition. This concept, called Spirit of the Game, is integrated into the basic philosophy of the sport, written into the rules, and practiced at all levels of the game from local leagues to the World Games.

The acceptance of Ultimate by the IOC means heightened publicity and prestige for the sport, which will translate into increased interest. And last year, when USA Ultimate was accepted for membership in the USOC, the wheels were put in motion.

“When we get calls from kids now that want to start a high school program, and their athletic director says, ‘Oh, that’s not a sport,’ now we can say, ‘No, that’s not true. We are recognized by the US Olympic Committee,'” USA Ultimate CEO Tom Crawford told Ultiworld in a recent article. “It totally legitimizes us as a sport because of the family we are now a part of.”

The international acceptance, in turn, will play into an increased presence in sports tourism.

“We are positioned really, really well for what they are looking for: sports that are growing, sports that are popular with the younger generation, and sports that are different,” said Crawford.

Acceptance by the IOC is a prerequisite for any potential inclusion in a future Summer Olympic Games. While this by no means guarantees that Ultimate will become an Olympic sport , it does position the sport well if the head of the IOC decides to open the Olympics up to more sports in the future.

Perhaps more important in the short term is the increased likelihood of Ultimate making its way into the Pan American Games or other major International tournaments that are not as restrictive as the Olympic Games.

Ultimate is also much more likely to land on the list of sports options at organizations like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club, which could begin to accelerate growth at the youth levels.

“Most people I speak with in ultimate believe that we pursued this recognition with only the goal of being an Olympic sport in mind, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Payne. “When and if that ever happens, it will be great, but the more important benefits are the visibility that being a proud member of the USOC brings and the programs the USOC members provide to help accelerate growth of the sport from the bottom up, starting with kids.”

Within the world of sports tourism, Ultimate is taking off. Destinations sponsoring events in 2015 alone have included Butler County, Ohio, Placer Valley, California, Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Erie, Pennsylvania. USA Ultimate has posted bid documents for upcoming events on its website for destinations interested in hosting its competitions.

Throughout the past years, USA Ultimate has been quietly establishing itself as a power in the world of emerging sports. At the end of 2014, the organization moved to Colorado Springs, showing its intent as a force to be reckoned with, and one that was driving what Payne called “the explosive growth of Ultimate in the United States.”


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