All-African match highlights growth

The match between Kisumu and UCT Flying Tigers was significant. Sean Colfer explains why.

Two teams facing each other in a pool on day three of a tournament is usually nothing that would be considered too significant, given how much of the week is left. However, the match-up between UCT Flying Tigers and Kisumu Frisbee Club was not an ordinary match. It was the first time that two African teams had ever met each other in any Ultimate World Championships.

Kisumu Frisbee Club had been an entity for some time before Mike McGuirk, who had been involved for many years in Bay Area Ultimate in California before moving to Kenya to supervise a drinking water disinfection programme, arrived in the country, However, once he had arrived and offered to coach the team in 2013, they became more competitive. They went to WCBU in Dubai and have been building since, developing into Kenya’s premier team and attending the second-ever All-African Ultimate Club Championships (AAUCC) last year.

UCT Flying Tigers are based around the University of Cape Town in South Africa. They won the South African Mixed title last season, qualifying for AAUCC where they beat Ghost Ultimate, another South African team, to win the title. Despite these successes, South Africa was not awarded an automatic bid in the Mixed division for WUCC this time around. They eventually managed to get a place, but the road here has been a difficult one. – not least because of how expensive the trip has been.

Kisumu managed to raise some money through crowdfunding in order to attend this tournament, while the Tigers were given some money by the University (though it was late in the process and after the players had already booked their trips). The Kenyans experienced another hurdle when eight of their players were unable to secure visas to come to Cincinnati, meaning the roster had to be filled out with players that had been with them at previous tournaments since those roster spots had already been paid for. Captain Allan Lemtudo said that the eight players that had to remain in Kenya were ‘very good players’.

All of this led to a historic game in the pools. The game itself was a relatively comfortable win for Kisumu, riding the strength of their defence to go on several rolls, winning 15-9 in the end. Both teams were well aware that this game was a possibility and had been excited about the prospect. Lemtudo said:

“We had named this game Mama Africa debut, because it was the first one. They won last year at AAUCC in Nairobi and they are a good team. We won this one though, so maybe we can say it’s now 1-1.”

James Ivey, one of the Tigers captains, had similar thoughts:

“We played them at AAUCC in the semi-finals and beat them quite comprehensively. They turned the tables on us today, though. They had to get quite a few alumni players in because unfortunately some of their players couldn’t get visas, and they really bossed it. It was really special to play another African team, although to be honest it wasn’t in my head during the game because I was so focused on playing well.”

James Ivey goes up for a catch against Zubair Abdulla of Kimusu. Photo by Andy Moss for Ultiphotos.

Another of the UCT captains, Avalon Igawa, pointed out that this was hardly a local debut. She said:

“We are grouped together because we are from Africa but they’re actually super far away. It’s awesome to be able to play Kisumu because it’s a once-a-year type of thing, if that. Last year was the first AAUCC we were able to play, so we haven’t played them often.

“Playing any team outside of South Africa is a highlight. We’ve been talking about this game for a while because, obviously, we support each other and say ‘Africa beat any other continent’.”

Ivey explains that there’s some discussion about whether AAUCC will become a country-based competition next year ahead of WUGC in order to help African teams gain some experience of international-level Ultimate. The sheer scale of the continent – it took Tigers 18 hours to get to Nairobi for AAUCC, and only 10 teams were able to attend – means it’s difficult to gain that experience and boost the development.

Igawa explained that many of their players had not played internationally before, and that many had not played against teams outside of South Africa. However, UCT are a very young team – their oldest player is 26 – so they have a lot of room to grow. Ivey agreed:

“I think we have athleticism and some skills, but maybe our mental maturity isn’t there compared to some teams. We don’t play as much competitive Ultimate, but we’re also young, and that mentality comes with maturity.”

The size of the continent and the fact that travelling around Africa can be so expensive means that development might be a slow process. However, these kinds of experiences will be invaluable for both teams.“I’m looking forward to playing Colombia,” says Igawa excitedly. “I just want to see what they throw at us. It’s so awesome being here.”

Lemtudo sees positives, too. He says that above all, they are excited to ‘carry a huge wealth of experience back home’. He is bullishly confident about the future of African Ultimate:

“Ultimate is really growing in Africa. We had only two teams in Kenya initially but now there are six, and Uganda is expanding too. It’s going to be a big thing, and we will pull some surprises in future for sure.”

Feature photo by Tiaan Raubenheimer.