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Sport Built on Spirit of Honor Debates a Role for Referees

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Seth Meyer of the Madison Radicals scored against Keiichiro Shiba of Buzz Bullets, a Japanese team, in an exhibition ultimate game last year in Madison, Wis.

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Lauren Justice for The New York Times

When teams from 39 nations convene in London on Saturday for the World Ultimate Championships, the scene will look like many other international sports competitions. There will be 3,000 athletes competing in men’s, women’s and mixed divisions. There will be flags and an opening ceremony.

But one key element of a major sporting event will be missing: referees.

Players of ultimate, popularly known as ultimate Frisbee, pride themselves on being a little different from athletes in other sports. That mentality is embodied in a concept known as spirit of the game.

Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player,” the rules state prominently. “Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play.”

The…

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