India—we know—is huge. There are over a billion people on the Indian subcontinent speaking a plurality of language and following a plethora of deities. Of the 28 states that form the republic, two of them combined—Masharatha and Uttar Pradesh—make for a larger population than the entirety of the United States’ 300 million.
The State of Tamil Nadu has 74 million—twice the population of California. Its capital Chennai, previously known in the Western world as Madras, is a city perched on the coastline of the Bay of Bengal. And if you look close enough Chennai is where you will find the opportunity to play beach ultimate.
This year players from the main Chennai teams Chakraa, FlyWild! and LiveWires (and Stall7?) are coming to the World Championships of Beach Ultimate representing India in the Open division.
WCBU11 may not be Chennai’s first international foray—players have competed at Manila Spirits, the Malaysian Open and Singapore Open—but it will be their first international beach tournament together. The Chennai team, much like defending silver-medalists from the Boracay Dragons, of the Philippines are a team used to playing ultimate primarily on the beach.
Chennai Heat, Chennai’s popular beach tournament, expects more than 15 teams from across the country this fall. It’s India’s largest and most popular tournament.
Over email, India captain and one of the founders of Chennai ultimate, Narayan Krishnan, provided some insight into the Indian ultimate scene.
How did ultimate start in Chennai? When?
Narayan Krishnan: Ultimate started in Chennai in June 2007. Manu Karan (who is also on the WCBU team) used to play ultimate in Colorado. Manu and I joined the same MBA program in India where ultimate was an orientation team game for the program. Many of us—including me—who were new to ultimate loved the game and the concept of Spirit of the Game.
After graduation from the program we moved to Chennai for work. We wanted to continue playing so we called upon a bunch of common friends and introduced the sport. We set the disc flying and since then there has been no looking back.
Does the Chennai team play grass ultimate as well or just beach?
Narayan Krishnan: Chennai teams play four times a week—two days are on the grass field and two days on the beach
How did the Chennai teams start and do you think ultimate will continue to grow?
Narayan Krishnan: The evolution of ultimate in Chennai has a unique story. It wasn’t started by Western expatriates by rather by Indians who played ultimate in the United States.
Chennai Ultimate Frisbee (CUF) began with less than 10 players in June 2007 and today we have more than 200 players. CUF conducts a free summer camp every year in May for beginners. This program has been successful over the last two years and has contributed to the formation of new teams and today Chennai has 6 full teams of beach ultimate players. Ultimate definitely cannot grow as fast as cricket would do in a country like India, but nevertheless, the response has been tremendous.
Bangalore Ultimate players have been successful in penetrating into schools in Bangalore. CUF is confident of being able to replicate the model in Chennai by introducing ultimate in high schools and colleges.
What is the future for ultimate in Southern India/Tamil Nadu?
Narayan Krishnan: There is definitely a lot of future for ultimate in Southern India. Of the five tournaments that happen in India, four happen in Southern India: Chennai Heat’s beach tournament, Pondicherry’s hat tournament in February, Bangalore’s grass tournament, in early July and Kodaikanal’s grass tournament at the end of March.
How did you first hear about WCBU?
Narayan Krishnan: We had known about WFDF before and we started looking around for something on beach ultimate. One of our players ran into the website about Paganello and that’s when we noticed that there was something called WCBU. We wrote to them later and told them about our activities and asked them for BULA approval and got it!
If you look into a crystal ball and see ten years from now, what will the ultimate scene be like in Southern India and Chennai?
Narayan Krishnan: Ultimate in Chennai will definitely continue at the beach as grass fields are strictly not available. We see it growing into a college sport and a corporate team-building activity, something like an unwind session. In Southern India, it will become big for sure. We already have more than 10 teams, although from here its always going to be uphill. Even though the task is going to be difficult, we believe we can do it through time. We need to make people aware that its a fun sport that gives them a good level of fitness with zero capital investment.
What is it about the nature of the sport that appeals to young Indians? Is it ultimate’s Spirit of the Game, non-contact rules, affordability, free-form culture/costume parties or something else entirely?
Narayan Krishnan: Spirit of the Game and non-contact rules are definitely a big plus. Its also a great attraction to female players. Parties are not a big thing in India as we have some strict rules on that. Looking at ultimate in India today, I can definitely say that not having an age limit to play and the “fun” aspect is getting a lot of eyeballs.
Still, many people are gung-ho about cricket because of the coverage it gets. Nonetheless we are happy with the growth we’ve had. We will continue to grow and spread our wings.
Narayan Krishnan: Ultimate’s biggest competition comes from cricket and soccer. People think that frisbee is all about getting a disc to the beach and throwing it around like a boomerang. They still don’t see it as a sport. Educating the people is a great challenge we see.
Also everyone is looking for benefits—maybe monetary or prizes and awards, but ultimate hasn’t grown to that level in India [Editor’s Note: or anywhere else in the world]. We still run tournaments at cost or with minimal sponsorship just to break even. Convincing someone to play just for fun is becoming a bit tough as they also need to learn to play. It’s not like cricket or football [soccer] which they follow on TV almost everyday.
Tell us something about the ultimate scenes in India as a whole.
Narayan Krishnan: Bangalore ultimate was initially a form of goaltimate. As the word about ultimate started spreading, the teams started adapting themselves into playing ultimate. Bangalore now has two private teams and three school teams.
Mumbai is another city where ultimate is played on the beach. Mumbai Ultimate started with less than 6 players in 2008 and today they have at least two full teams. A good number of foreigners who come to work in Mumbai take part in the Indian tournaments as part of the Mumbai team and also coach the local players to get better at the sport.
Delhi Ultimate predominantly consists of foreigners who come to work with the local High Commission, UNICEF, and other international programs.
Ahmedabad ultimate is being spearheaded by Indicorps. There is so much to write about! Here is the link to their website. I encourage you to take a look: www.ultimate.indicorps.org.
What are you looking forward to most at WCBU11?
Narayan Krishnan: At WCBU11, we are looking forward to meeting players from all nationalities and invite them to play Ultimate in India, whenever they travel to this side of the world. We would like to grow Ultimate in India and would definitely like to hear some thoughts and ideas from experienced teams about what should be our next steps.