Real Talk | Yikun Sports: A Pioneer of Frisbee in China

by

Interview and story / Candice Wu

English Version Translator  / Danny Zhang

Editor / Sylvia Zhang

Photos Courtesy of Yikun Sports

In the United States, there was a pie manufacturer called the Frisbie Pie Company in Connecticut that sold their “frisbie pies” to nearby establishments, such as Yale University. Students would take their empty frisbie containers and toss them to each other, calling their game “Frisbie”. California native Fred Morrison, who is often credited with inventing the Frisbee, sought to refine it, and eight years later created the Frisbee that we know of today.

Since the first Frisbees hit the market in 1957, there is now around 60 years of history in sports involving Frisbees. As a young but international sport, Ultimate Frisbee and the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) have both been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Players are not allowed to collide with each other in any way in Ultimate, so the sport is very safe, and the fact that there are usually no referees for competitive games means that sportsmanship is one of the most important aspects of the game overall.

As a sport with low barriers to entry, more and more people are starting to hear about and play Ultimate in many cities around China. From China’s first exposure to the sport until the establishment of the first Frisbee company, then its rise to being a top three Frisbee manufacturer in the world, and the only Frisbee company in Asia to be honored with the highest level of recognition by the World Flying Disc Federation, Yikun Sports is undoubtedly the leader in developing disc sports in China. Dragon Media was recently given the opportunity to speak to Yikun Sports founder , Xue Zhixing, who goes by Sei, to talk about the founding and history of Yikun Sports, as well as the past, present, and future of disc sports.

The founders of Yikun Sports

Yikun Sports was founded in 2008 in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province. Outside of its own Frisbee development, equipment manufacturing, consulting, tournament organization, and live-streaming capabilities, it is also the first Frisbee company in Asia to receive the highest level of recognition from the sport’s international governing body.

(DM: Dragon Media; Xue Zhixing: Sei)

DM:Although Ultimate is a blend of elements of soccer, basketball, American football, and other sports, it is still not quite as popular as those sports. What do you think is the appeal of such a sport? What drove you to create Yikun Sports?

Sei: My first experience with Frisbee came when a foreign professor of mine in college introduced it to me. What drew me in was the fairness, spirit, and friendliness that the game taught me. The first international competition I took part in was in 2006, and my team won the regional championship of China. As a member of the first team to consist of students, I just felt so proud and happy about the accomplishment, and my love of Ultimate Frisbee has continued ever since. Due to our love and passion for the sport, I and a few of my college friends thus decided to create Yikun Sports, hoping that we could use this as a way to help the development of disc sports in China.

Sei and his team after winning the Chinese regional championship in 2006

DM:Ultimate Frisbee has often been referred to as a “gentleman’s sport”. What do you think separates it from other so-called “gentleman’s sports” such as golf and snooker?

Sei:I think Ultimate is the most gentlemanly sport of them all. Because there are no referees for games, players are very respectful of each other, and are expected to play with sportsmanship. It doesn’t matter how intense the action is on the field, after the game players will always shake hands and come together in a friendly manner. So in my opinion, Ultimate is the most friendly sport there is.

DM:We see that you have appeared on the TV show Dragon’s Den (a Chinese version of the popular TV show Shark Tank), and you agreed to give 15% ownership of the company to Xu Xiaoping in exchange for significant investment in the company on his part. This was twice the percentage of your original offer, so how does this change affect the company’s future? What do the other co-founders of the company think about this deal?

Sei:Well before we appeared on the show, we had already made preparations to cede around 15% of the company’s ownership, so we were actually quite satisfied with how it turned out. With this new round of investment, we will hopefully be able to further expand Yikun’s resources, and carve out a more secure future for the company.

Sei appearing on Dragon’s Den to promote Yikun Sports

DM:You mentioned on Dragon’s Den that Frisbee-related business is the core of Yikun Sports’ operations, but outside of manufacturing Frisbee equipment, do you foresee the company organizing more and more tournaments?

Sei:Absolutely. At the same that we’re producing Frisbee equipment, we hope to be more involved with organizing tournaments as another way of helping the sport grow, and these two things go hand in hand. As manufacturing Frisbees has always been our foundation, we have always had a say in this industry. But we would also like to attract international tournaments, and expand the popularity of disc sports overall around the world. This would also allow our products to gain more exposure internationally.

Some of the Frisbees that Yikun Sports has manufactured for various tournaments around the world

DM: There is certainly no shortage of Frisbee tournaments around China, but due to the sport being introduced here only recently, the ratio of foreign players or coaches involved in the sport here to local participants is rather high. Do you think disc sports in China are starting to move in a more local-centric direction?

Sei:The ratio of foreign to local players is actually starting to decrease already, just look at what it was like back in 2006 when I participated in that international tournament. Back then, among the 20 teams in the tournament, there was only one Chinese team, but in this year’s edition of the tournament, there were just four or five foreign teams, and among the Chinese teams, a great deal of them were from Chinese universities. Outside of this, there are over 300 schools in China at elementary, middle, and high school levels that have been introduced to disc sports, so the popularity of Frisbee is really increasing rapidly.

A picture of the 2017 China Open tournament champions

DM:After years of development, Frisbee in China seems to have a structure in place, and there are multiple teams throughout Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. But with cities here in China always expanding, but the field dimensions for Ultimate staying the same (using an area roughly similar to a soccer field), does this pose any issues for the sport’s continued development here in the future?

Sei:I don’t think it will. Disc sports like Ultimate can utilize different field sizes, and using Shanghai as an example, there are around 10 universities with their own Frisbee clubs. And disc golf can be played on ski resorts during warmer months, as it’s easy to set up courses, maintenance costs are low, and its popularity is growing as well.

DM:Outside of China, things are promising for Frisbee internationally as well. The United States Olympic Committee recognized USA Ultimate and the sport of Ultimate Frisbee in 2014. But it seems like it will still take some time for Ultimate to be announced as a new Olympic sport. Do you think there is a chance for the sport to be introduced as a new sport for the 2024 Paris Olympics, and if not, how long do you think it will take for the sport to appear at the Olympics?

Sei:I think the chances of it appearing in the 2028 Olympics are much better. Over 80 countries worldwide play disc sports, and since the barriers to playing Ultimate are low, and the sport is fun to play, the sport’s growth can achieve a roughly 20-30% increase every year. So considering how much the sport has grown so far, I think the sport can gain the recognition of the Junior Olympics as early as next year. The World Flying Disc Federation has also started working with the IOC, so I think it’s not a matter of if disc sports will appear in the Olympics, but when.

The World Championships of Beach Ultimate 2017 in France

DM:There are many mixed-gender sports in the Olympics, such as badminton, tennis, table tennis, and curling, among others. What does Ultimate Frisbee have in common with these sports?

Sei:As a sport with both male and female participants on the field at the same time, equality in sport and fair play is very important in Ultimate, and is thus more suited to the spirit of the Olympic Games.

DM:Outside of Ultimate Frisbee, what other Frisbee variations or games are there? Such as disc dog, or disc golf.

Sei:Because disc dog combines owning a dog and having a Frisbee, the popularity of it is maybe even smaller than Ultimate. The rules of disc golf are similar to regular golf, and so at least in the United States, it might be even more popular than Ultimate. There are over 5000 dedicated disc golf courses in the US, and last year some of the top competition prizes for it were over $3.6 million. Another variation of Ultimate is Beach Ultimate.

A 2011 disc dog competition in Beijing

DM:In terms of promoting disc sports, Yikun Sports has an “UltiPro Frisbee Plan”. How many applications have there been for it so far? Do you have any updates on how it will be promoted?

Sei:The UltiPro Frisbee Plan has been one of Yikun’s oldest promotional plans (it includes a set of complimentary Frisbee equipment), to support the growth of Ultimate in China, as well as the formation of new teams. We’ve received over 60 applications for it so far. Yikun has four separate plans for the future; providing equipment and training for schools and other groups, training Chinese Ultimate coaches, which will help develop more Frisbee clubs/teams to increase the popularity of the sport, organize youth disc sports tournaments, and begin to help promote and grow the sport of disc golf in China.

To learn more about disc sports, press “Read more” or scan the QR code below to follow Yikun Sports. If you want to give disc sports a try, but you don’t have a Frisbee, leave a comment below the article. Just tell us what style of Frisbee you want, and why you want it, and we’ll select eight winners to receive three disc golf Frisbees and five official Ultimate Frisbees!

Short-distance, middle-distance and long-distance golf Frisbees

 

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Dragon Group Asia

DGA provides integrated marketing solutions for multinational companies in the US and China.

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