This June India will create history at The World Ultimate and Guts Championships in London by sending its first ever women’s Frisbee team. But, there is just one hiccup. According to head coach Abhinav Vinayakh Shankar, there is a shortage of funds.
Ultimate Players Association of India (UPAI) – the body that represents women’s Frisbee players in India - has kickstarted a fundraising campaign on online crowdfunding platform Ketto to tide over the financial problem.
But, what exactly is ultimate Frisbee?
Ultimate Frisbee is generally a mixed-gender game, consisting of at least three girls in a team of seven and involves flipping of discs. According to the players, this gives equal opportunity to people, regardless of gender, cultural or economic background and age.
Many women from UPAI do not have much experience of playing Frisbee. In fact, for most of them, the sport started as a hobby and then became a passion. Being a part of the first women’s team, the players feel that this will not only be a landmark achievement but will also help the sport gain popularity across India.
Out of the 20 women who are participating in the world championships, there are seven each from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka respectively.
Twenty-one-year-old Meenakshi Kallappa, who is a national level Kho Kho player from Karnataka, started playing frisbee with the teams that used to play in her college ground.
“They called us to join them as they were short of players and that’s how I developed an interest in the game. I would go for practice sessions regularly after college hours,” said Meenakshi, whose mother is a tailor in a garment factory. She lost her father when she was 5 years old.
Though Meenakshi has traveled across India for national level kho-kho tournaments, her family was a little reluctant about sending her abroad. However, after she got selected for the world-level event, her family has been supportive.
Having played for the last four years, Meenakshi says there was some hesitation initially about how to co-ordinate with boys, however, the sport has helped break gender stereotypes. “Initially I felt that men are stronger than women. But the more we practiced, we realised we were just conditioned to think so,” she said.
Chennai-based Abhinav Vinayakh Shankar, who is the head coach of the team, mails the players a draft of instructions and drills, which every team member in their respective cities, is expected to practice every week.
“When we meet once a month I chalk out a different drill sheet. Every month, the intensity of the drill increases,” he said.
Nima Ponappa, who is 28 years old, calls her introduction to the sport a chance accident that happened two years ago.
“I just happened to watch a tournament in Bengaluru and the more tournaments I went to, the more I wanted to play,” said Nima who took money off her fixed deposit meant for her wedding, to cover her expenses for training and travel.
“We have to spend on jerseys, we need to spend on travel, accommodation, ground rent and many other things. Imagine, if it’s a burden on players who have a job, then students and players who come from underprivileged backgrounds must really be facing the pinch,” she said.
Thirty percent of the team’s members come from less privileged backgrounds.
For 18-year-old Selvi who is from Auroville, Tamil Nadu, this would be the first time she would be setting foot abroad and “what better reason than to represent the first ever women’s team at the World Championships!” she says. Her mother runs a chocolate manufacturing business and her father is an expert garderner in Auroville. She is one of the youngest in the team.
Twenty-nine-year-old Tharakai Natesan from Chennai is the vice-president of the Ultimate Players Association of India. She started playing frisbee four years ago on the beaches of Chennai. She is a part of the Ultimate Frisbee club called Blitzkrieg in Chennai, consisting of – what she calls - “shy” boys from lesser privileged communities.
“I work with them to keep them out of trouble, making them focus their energies and passion on Ultimate and strive to build responsible citizens out of them!” she said.