The Hungary Ultimate Frisbee Association (HUFA) is one of the newest to receive full IOC recognition, having been formally recognised by its country’s Olympic committee in only 2015. At the time, HUFA president Péter Kramer was quoted as saying: “We are extremely happy as this this will mean we get to participate in all regular meetings and Congresses of the Olympic Committee and receive some state funding as well. We are planning to be active members so we can contribute to the advancement of not only disc sports but other sports in Hungary not yet in the Olympic Programme as well.”
Fast-forward to 2017. We get to see Péter (plus 14 teammates) fulfilling the promise of HUFA to be active members by entering WCBU 2017. Somewhat unexpectedly, they have only one team, and it’s in the Mixed Masters division. They didn’t show up at WUGC in 2016, so this will be the first outing for the team as an official squad since the recognition (aside from an appearance at the Junior Championships in 2016).
I catch them on their third game. They’ve beaten Currier Island, and suffered a loss against Canada. Now, they’re up against Great Britain. They stroll up with big M’s across their chest – displaying themselves as Magyar Ultimate (Magyar simply being Hungarian for Hungary). It’s big, bold, and a little bit unexpected to those who don’t know the team. Quite fitting.
They unleash a fearsome chant in Hungarian. I later find out it means “Who is the best? Hungary, Hungary, Hungary”, and that it is a traditional chant in all sports. It certainly struck fear into me, and I wasn’t about to play them. Even before they take the field, the logos on their caps and visors – France Ultimate, Currier Island, Brooklyn, Ultimate Masters Medellin – show that this is a team with a little bit of history.
Once they take the field, you can see it first-hand. They play good mixed, using all their players well. They favour a stack which keeps four people bunched tight, allowing one person to run long. There are a few overthrows, but the cuts are sharp and the bids are strong. They haven’t had any warm up tournaments, but it’s clear they know each other well.
It turns out that they have played together for many years. The archives in Paganello show a Hungarian team winning spirit in 1993, 1995 and 1996. The team popped up in Portugal WCBU in 2004 as a Mixed team (they came ninth), and in Italy in 2011 in Masters (ninth out of 11), and now they are back for France in 2017. Some of their players are over 40, but they are same players, many years later.
The captain, Gabor ‘Fifty’ Bartha, tells me they’ve reunited for this tournament, with some players even coming out of retirement. “We like it because it doesn’t hurt as much as grass,” he says. Given their age, he jokes that they will need a Mixed Grandmasters division when they come back again. Their mission was to win at least one game, which they’ve already managed by the time I reach them – a 10-8 victory vs Currier Island. He tells me the aim is now to win two. Or, at least, to not come last. They want to play tough games and not get frustrated. This is a team enthused with love of the game, evident in their grins coming out of the spirit circle.
Hungary has a flourishing youth scene. They’ve been playing under-20 tournaments, and one day will bring a senior squad back to the country. For now, this old generation is still flying the banner well. I ask Gabor if he has any advice for the youth of his country: “Play as many tournaments as possible. You will learn, improve, and make many friends, even on other teams.” Seeing the way he looks at me, I have no doubt this is a man who has lived that advice, and not regretted it one bit.
By Harry Mason.