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Ultimate Frisbee catching on in Kingdom

Ultimate Frisbee addicts from the Kingdom and abroad converged on the Northbridge International Sports College grounds this weekend for the annual “Big Phat Phnom Penh Hat” tournament, won handsomely by the Blue team 11-7 in Sunday’s final, despite playing four games in the searing heat beforehand.

Ultimate Frisbee is a combination of American Football tactical movement, mid-air catching and pure speed. Completely non-contact, both men and women compete to ‘touch down’ in the end zone for a solitary point, each team racing to be the first to 11.

The cult sport is starting to take root here in the capital, adding to a number of similar Southeast Asian tournaments and allowing Frisbee fiends the opportunity to compete against like-minded individuals.

Athletes from as far away as San Francisco flew in for the two-day tourney. Games are “self-policed”, meaning there are no referees and players apply the rules themselves. It’s both a show of pure sportsmanship and potential evidence that referees are ultimately useless.

The laid-back affair is unlike almost any other sporting event held in Cambodia, as beers are poured just as often as the discs are thrown. Dan Axon, a 47-year-old computer programmer from North Carolina who’s lived in Bangkok for three years, said the competition is standard fare compared to other tournaments held around the world.

“I’ll play around five or six [tournaments] a year,” he said. “This [set-up] is pretty standard.”

A “hat” tournament involves competitors throwing their name into a proverbial hat, along with a self-appraisal of their ability. Teams are then decided on by organisers to assure a close tournament.

“I’ll go to two hat tournaments in Thailand, one in Vietnam,” revealed Axon, who has played the sport since 1981. “There are club tournaments in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and the Philippines.”

This year’s competition attracted 85 players split into five teams. Organiser Craig Gerard hopes more will turn out in coming years as the sport continues to grow.

“Our goal is basically to get as many people to come out [as possible],” he said. “We did a smaller version of the tournament last year in July. We invited Saigon’s team to come out and play, and it was just three teams.”

According to Gerard, the 2009 version was “way less formal” than the current incarnation. There were fewer players, less infrastructure and no music blaring for the duration, a trait which added to the spectacle this year as players scored between songs from artists as diverse as Ray Charles and Warren G.

The Blue team, for the record, jumped out to an early 5-2 lead and never relented despite their heavy schedule, blowing away a heavily-favoured Navy [blue] coloured team - who had played just twice Sunday – to clinch victory by four points.

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