Each weekend at a lush park in northern Bogotá, spinning white discs soar through the air, eagerly chased by athletes anxious to snatch them before the opposing team. Ultimate Frisbee is surging in popularity in Colombia, and the former country club grounds at Parque Country are the heart of the burgeoning scene in Bogotá.
Every Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of players flood the fields in pursuit of plastic discs. It’s been a swift change from just a few years ago. There are about 175 ultimate teams throughout Colombia registered with the National Players’ Association. That’s more than five times the roughly 30 teams registered just five years ago, according to Rafael Araoz, a member of the Association of Colombian Ultimate Players’ administrative team.
“In Bogotá we are growing a lot now, primarily because of the existence of Country, because it’s a space for everyone to see ,” said Araoz, 31, who also plays for one of Bogotá’s top men’s teams. “You bring your child here and they’re surely going to tell you, ‘I want to play this.”
The sport, known simply as “ultimate,” is a cross between American football and soccer, where players score goals by passing the disc to their teammates in the endzone. The person holding the disc can’t move, and their teammates sprint to shed their defenders and advance the disc upfield. It’s played with seven people on each team, and physical contact isn’t allowed.
“I think fair play in ultimate is one of the main reasons why people like it; it’s not a rough sport,” said Camila Blanco, 20, who plays on a co-ed team called Lycans and for her university team. “I love the sport because it’s a mix of every single sport.”
Ultimate is also exciting to watch, Araoz said, which is part of the reason it’s growing in popularity. “It’s flashy, there are people laying out [to catch the disc], there are attractive men and attractive women,” he said. “At the beginning, when you want to play something new, that gets your attention.”
Ultimate players in Bogotá range from amateurs to those training for the upcoming World Games that Cali will host in July. Some teams hold regular structured workouts with trainers, while other players create makeshift fields using backpacks and water bottles and scrimmage with anyone who shows up.
Some players spend most of their weekends at the park. It’s a “small community, but very connected,” said Mauricio Andrés Martinez Lung, 32, who plays on a men’s team and the national team that will compete in Cali. “There’s a lot of friendship.”
In addition to men’s and women’s teams, Colombia has a variety of mixed gender and youth teams. Around 40 percent of the ultimate players in Colombia are women, according to Araoz. “I think in ultimate the good thing is that there’s a balance between women and men,” said Blanco. “In most teams, there’s a good set of women in each team and even the girl teams are full.”
In the past, the sport was seen as exclusive, limited largely to those who learned to play in the university and who could afford to travel to international tournaments. But that’s changing as ultimate is becoming more popular. “As it has grown, it has resulted in many people of different social classes coming to play,” said Araoz.
Foreigners with experience playing ultimate also find their way into the country’s ultimate scene, including recent visitors from Italy and the United States. Still, foreigners make up a small minority of Colombia’s ultimate community.
Outside of Bogotá, cities in Colombia also boast sizable ultimate scenes, including Medellín, Cali, Ibagué and others. But while growing in size, ultimate in Colombia still isn’t universally known. “Some people think it is ultimate fighting,” said Martinez Lung. That’s changing as more people have joined the sport and word has spread around Colombia.
Before, when you told someone you played ultimate, “people had absolutely no idea what it was,” Araoz said. Now, “at least they make the gesture, ‘Ah, it’s with a frisbee.’”