Niche sports picks up steam in China, diversifies fitness choices

By Sun Longfei, Zheng Yi, People’s Daily

The niche sport of frisbee is currently in vogue across China.

Ultimate Frisbee, often referred to simply as “Ultimate,” is a common frisbee game that combines the characteristics of multiple team sports. Like in basketball, no travelling with the disc is allowed in Ultimate, and players score by passing over a goal line, which is similar to American football.

Players must cooperate closely with each other to pass and catch the disc, which tests both players’ athleticism and their capability of teamwork.

Ultimate can be played anywhere, and there’s no limit on the number of players in a game, which is not physical but fun. Even a referee is not necessary, because the two teams in the game can negotiate over controversial fouls. The self-refereeing mechanism based on honesty, mutual respect and fair competition helps players, who possibly don’t know each other before the game, rapidly establish a close bond.

XueZhixing, deputy secretary-general of China’s National Frisbee Sports Promotion Committee, told People’s Daily that Frisbee sports have been introduced to China for nearly 20 years, and frisbee enthusiasts are mainly in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River delta and the Pearl River delta. He said there are around 500,000 people joining the sports in the three regions.

According to the man, frisbee clubs, universities and relevant enterprises are major drivers of the development of the sports in China.

Ultimate Frisbee has been gaining traction in Heifei, east China’s Anhui province. Photo shows Hefei citizens playing Ultimate Frisbee in a soccer park. (Photo by Yuan Bing/People’s Daily Online)

The Superluminal Motion Observation Committee (SMOC) is a frisbee club established by frisbee enthusiasts in Shanghai. The club has attracted 3,000 members in just 5 months and holds regular games on a weekly basis.

“Frisbee players enjoy the sports in different clubs, and some of them who are active may establish their own clubs,” said Liu Diyang, founder of the SMOC. There are always some people who can further expand the influence of the sports, Liu added.

Guo Xing, a senior frisbee enthusiast established China’s first female Ultimate team in Shanghai. She believes it’s a better way to improve female players’ confidence and skills, and make them more attracted by the sport.

Well-developed sports events are unquestionably a big chance for niche sports to get popular. According to the social sports guidance center of the General Administration of Sport, the first national Ultimate Frisbee championship will kicked off soon. The event, which is expected to last till May 2023, welcomes teams from communities, enterprises, social organizations and schools and universities.

What’s more, Ultimate Frisbee might be elevated to the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games. “If the sport makes it into the Olympics, it will further expand its fan base in China and create opportunities for relevant industries,” Xue said.

Citizens play inline hockey on a square in Shenyang, northeast China’s Liaoning province, Oct. 5, 2021. (Photo by Huang Jinkun/People’s Daily Online)

Following frisbee, many other niche sports are also striving to expand their market in China. These sports have a low requirement on players’ skills and equipment, but they are still great physical exercises.
Crossover development is a major highlight of emerging niche sports. Liu Wei, a senior Ultimate enthusiast, told People’s Daily that Ultimate players must keep running in the games and normally a player could run 5 kilometers per game.

“Many soccer and flag football fans take Ultimate as physical training at first, and they would gradually find themselves getting into the sport,” Liu said.

Most of the emerging niche sports are easy to learn, so the fans of other sports are able to apply the sport skills they have already grasped, which makes these niche sports easier, said Wang Xueli, director of the Center for Development of Sports Industry, Tsinghua University.

Many enthusiasts for stand-up paddling and surfskating were once snowboarders and skaters, she noted.
Today, frisbee, stand-up paddling and cycling are more and more seen during camping activities, which have become popular in the recent couple of years.

“The emerging sports mirror the changes in people’s lifestyles. As fitness programs become diversified, individualized and fashionable, it is believed that more niche sports will gain popularity,” said Wang Yuxiong, director of the research center for sports economics, Central University of Finance and Economics.

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