Mixture of nationalities collide in Dubai for World Championships of Beach Ultimate

Lone Emirati on UAE Open side wants to send message to his compatriots as teams from around the globe take part, reports Ali Khaled.

Australia, in green, took on Russia, in white, during the World Championships of Beach Ultimate on Monday. Satish Kumar / The National
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DUBAI // Competitors from 24 real countries and one fake one took part in the World Championships of Beach Ultimate on Monday, as the UAE got a taste of one of the world’s most unique sports.

A five-against-five game with unlimited substitutions, Beach Ultimate draws on the rules of American football and basketball.

Played on a 75-metre by 25-metre field, the object is to move the frisbee to a teammate in the end zone.

When a player takes possession of the frisbee they cannot run with it but can pivot on one leg to throw it on and there are no restrictions on how many passes a team can make or in what direction.

The team that reaches 13 points, or is leading after 45 minutes, wins the match.

On the weekend teams were placed in seven different categories with games played across 10 pitches.


For Ahmad Ali Mohammed Al Shamsi, the lone Emirati in the UAE Open side taking part on the beach opposite Jumeirah Beach Residence, it has been a steep learning curve since he took up the game a year ago.

“In the beginning it was tough,” he said. “But this group of people are always there for you, even though they don’t speak your language they make sure you know exactly what you need to do.”

At the end of the UAE Open team’s 13-2 win against Qatar, Al Shamsi, 28, who is from Abu Dhabi, described how much playing on the beach takes out of you physically.

“Playing on sand is probably twice as tiring as playing on a regular surface,” he said. “You must know how to continue when you are tired, how to finish the point, which can take one minute or 10 minutes.”

The win carried extra significance for Al Shamsi.

“I am the first Emirati to ever score in a world championship,” he said. “I am very proud and I hope this message reaches all Emiratis and Arabs. In sport you gain so much, you mix with other people, other languages.”

Alex Niswander, the US captain, played college ultimate in the US before moving to the UAE in September 2012.

“I think we have a solid group here, the spirit here is very good,” he said. “We don’t have as much experience as other teams but we have a group that works hard and is getting a lot better. We have an Emirati, we have American, Canadian, Macedonian, Greek and Filipino players. It’s awesome to see those guys on the same pitch.”

Also taking part was the UAE women’s team, who performed well in defeat against a strong Germany team.

“There are only seven women’s teams,” vice-captain Christina Wickman said. “All are really high calibre. It was a tough game for us, some of these women have been playing for two or three months and some have never played before. So just coming out and playing strong was a lot of fun.”

Wickman, a 27-year-old American known to her teammates as “XT”, said she is proud to be taking part in the tournament for the first time.

“We represent the UAE, we love being out here and love playing,” she said. “Ultimate is amazing in that regard. We don’t have referees, it’s self-officiating so we make our own foul calls and decisions. Everybody respects each other. You respect the fact that you’re going to play Germany and you know that they will make all the right calls and hold the highest spirit, and we do the same.”

One of the most unique elements of ultimate is what Rob McGowan of Great Britain’s masters team called the “spirit of the game”.

“It’s all self-officiated and there is a code of conduct. You’re expected to be a good person basically and, if you’re not, it stands out,” he said.

McGowan, 38, had helped his team overcome the Philippines 13-7 in their first match.

“We were worried about them because they only play on the beach,” he said. “They have a tournament every year called the Boracay Open which is really famous.”

McGowan is a 17-year veteran of ultimate and has played in several world championships. To him, the camaraderie between the teams is one of the major reasons he keeps coming back.

“Each of these big events I see people from around the world that I saw in the last big event,” he said. “The Spirit Circle at the end as it’s known is an integral thing in international ultimate. The teams get together, the losing team will talk first, then the winning team. Then you exchange gifts and make friends and catch up in the parties later on in the week.”

Others have travelled even further to be here, such as Alan Murray of Australia who said he was excited to “explore the different culture and the craziness of the buildings” in Dubai.

Despite having flown from Australia days ago, suggestions of jet lag or tiredness were dismissed. “Nah, we’re stronger than that,” said Murray.

For some of the newer teams, the experience has been an eye opener.

“Seeing the drills other teams do – the tactics and techniques they use – we are relatively new to the sport so it will help us incredibly,” Vinayak Puthran of India’s masters team said.

India got off to flyer, beating Currier Island – a fictional nation created to allow beach ultimate players with no national team to compete together – 13-7 in their opening match. Like almost everyone else at the tournament, the Currier players quickly got into the spirit of things.

“It’s been absolutely fantastic,” a man nicknamed Pixie said. “I’m a newbie to the sport. I started in 2013 and what really got me the first time I took part in a tournament in India is the community in this sport. It’s beautiful.”

Al Shamsi is proud that the UAE is hosting this tournament and sees it as a way to bring people together.

“Here sometimes you feel people don’t mix despite the UAE having a huge number of nationalities,” he said. “I am the only Emirati but we have players from all over the world here. It’s an honour for me to play with these players.”


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