'Ultimate frisbee', the sport in which there are no referees and rivals must talk to each other

Krakens, a Catalan team, make their debut at the European Championships

4 min
Los Krakens, Barcelona Ultimate frisbee team

BarcelonaEvery Wednesday, on the Somorrostro beach, not far from Frank Gehry's Goldfish, a group of people sweat it out on the sand. Curious onlookers think that they are a group of friends playing with a a frisbee. Truth is, this group takes it seriously. A few years ago Barcelona saw the birth of its first ultimate frisbee team. The sporting discipline was born in the 1960s in the United States and revolves around these stylishly designed discs. What for so many people is a simple game is an important part of others' life. It also transmits an interesting set of values, as it is one of the few sports in which there are no referees.

This week the Krakens, with a Catalan flag on their shirt, will debut at the European Championships in Bruges, Belgium. Their debut will be on Thursday against CUBS Red Bulls from Bologna (Italy), the first of the three matches of the initial phase. Many European countries have a certain tradition in this sport, yet it remains relatively unknown here. Abroad, some players are able to get paid thanks to sponsors or the support of local institutions. The Krakens, on the other hand, are paying for everything out of their own pockets in order to make their debut in a continental tournament, thanks to the state runners-up spot they won just before the pandemic. As debutants, they are unfamiliar with their opponents. And they are hoping to cause a stir in a sport that is, of course, all about catching a frisbee in the air. But there's much more than just that. There's a whole world that pulls you in.

Ultimate frisbee or 'ultimate' emerged at the end of the 60s in universities across the United States. In 1984, coinciding with its arrival in Europe and Latin America, the World Flying Disc Federation was founded. "It is an easy sport to explain. It is similar to American football, but without contact. And in this case the ball would be the flying disc, of course. There are two modalities. One on the beach, where teams of five players face each other, and one on grass, where the teams have 7 players. The idea is to pass the frisbee to try to reach the end zone. There is no goal as in soccer, instead there is an area where you get a point for catching the frisbee. When you catch the disc, you can only move one foot and you have to pass it again within 10 seconds. The opponents can try to disturb you, but never touch you. When the puck touches the ground because of a bad pass, it changes possession," explains Juan Manuel Triviño, one of the souls of the Barcelona team.

In Belgium, the championships will be on grass. Triviño, a Colombian, already played ultimate in his home country and when he arrived in Barcelona, he was certain he wanted to continue practicing it. "I'm going to start practicing it in 2004. There is a larger tradition there and I learnt a lot of things that I can now use to coach the team. One of my ideas was to be able to play in a team that, beyond wanting to have fun, wanted to compete," he says.

In Catalonia, the first club was Bravas, founded in 1997 in Castelldefels. In Barcelona, Peixets was founded over a decade ago. The origins of Peixets go back to 2006, with the help of some players from the Sevilla Frisbillanas team who came to Barcelona, but the club was founded in 2007. "There are two teams, the male Krakens and female Piranyes. We are at Somorrostro, so the name is inspired by the Goldfish. Many people have been at the club, but about three years ago a batch of people came in who wanted to push forward. Before it was more recreational and now we also want to compete," says Triviño.

In total, about 50 people are linked to this club, one of many in Barcelona, where there are other teams such as the Sharks. This week, 21 Krakens will make their debut at the European Championships. Over 60 teams in the three divisions from over 20 countries will take part. The presence of a team from the Spanish championships is a novelty. "Of course, we paid for everything ourselves. Some have not been able to make the trip. It's a very nice group, with people from all around the world. We have Venezuelans, Colombians, two French, an Italian and a large group of Catalans. A mix of jobs and ages. A heterogeneous group with a nuclear engineer, people who work for the Generalitat de Catalunya, an engineer from Seat or a genius from the world of apps. The group has become very close and has become a group of friends", he adds. Just as some players have gone through prestigious universities, Krakens also has people who arrived undocumented and looked for a team to integrate.

The Krakens train every Monday on grass at the Can Dragó facilities, where they return on Saturday. On Wednesday, it's beach time. Triviño directs the training sessions, which are more intense than people might think. "In a game of ultimate you have to run more than in a basketball game. You can get very tired from running up and down, you have to stay in shape. During the pandemic, video calls were made to share training sessions," he recalls.

Ultimate frisbee is a sport with many points in common with others, but with key differential factors to understand why it attracts its fans. First, there is a mixed category, as important as the men's and women's. "The players are usually part of two teams, the mixed team and the other one," says Triviño. The second factor that makes this sport so special is the absence of a referee. "People are very surprised that there is no referee, when it is a sport with two teams facing each other. Fair play is very important. It's a sport where you can't touch your opponent, where if you're in doubt about a play, you have to be honest. And if two players see things differently, you have to start a dialogue. Dialogue forces you to listen, to pay attention to other perspectives. And if there's no agreement either, the puck goes back," says Triviño.

In fact, these characteristics have allowed ultimate frisbee to be part of initiatives to create dialogue between communities and opposing groups. This happened in Colombia with former FARC fighters and members of the contras, or in Jerusalem between young Palestinians and Israelis. "You can have them play separately or sharing a team, forcing them to dialogue, to listen, so that they can continue to play," says the Krakens player-coach. "Our sport has grown a lot in recent years, especially in schools. It's has a lot of values. A lot of people leave football or basketball when they get to know it. They find something different". The sport is recognized by the International Olympic Committee and it will try be part of the Los Angeles Games in 2028.