Bill Moffat needed his team to remain calm. He knew that was the key to the gold.
“If I can keep them calm, then we have a chance of winning this,” the coach of the Canadian National Dodgeball team said in the tension-filled moments leading up to Sunday afternoon’s World Dodgeball Championships at Queen Elizabeth Stadium in the Wan Chai neighborhood of Hong Kong.
WATCH: Hit the Floor of the Dodgeball Championships
You’d be forgiven for not realizing the World Dodgeball Championships happened over the weekend. Blame it on that other sporting event happening down in Brazil.
Yet over 150 players from five countries traveled to Hong Kong last week to compete in the game of skill that involves strategy, teamwork and avoiding foam balls thrown at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.
We live in the early days of global dodgeball competition. Very early.
In 2012 a group of enthusiasts from countries with large dodgeball communities—Malaysia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, England and China—got together to try to standardize the game’s rules for international play. The quarreled over court size, ball size, rules and regulations. That year they hosted an invitational tournament in Malaysia—the very first World Dodgeball Championships. The following year the tournament was hosted by New Zealand. Next year, they hope to hold the games in Las Vegas.
“The goal right now is to get dodgeball organized and standardized across the world,” explained Bill Fair, the president of the World Dodgeball Federation. Fair is 37 and works in hotel sales in San Diego. Thirty-seven, he claims, is practically ancient in the world of dodgeball, but he shows no signs of retiring any time soon.
Once the sport is standardized, Fair says, the goal grows loftier. “Once we can agree on the format, the rules and the standards then we will look towards the Olympics.”
Excitement brews at the opening ceremonies. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
Each team has a very distinctive personality.
The Malaysians are honest to a fault, the referees tell me. They will stop the game themselves and call a penalty if they cross one of the foul lines.
“Our three tenets are integrity, sportsmanship and the honor system and we apply these to the sport,” Malaysian captain Muhammad Irfan bin Shuhaimi, a 23-year-old who works in retail at a Kuala Lumpur RadioShack explained about the morality of his team. “Once we get hit we raise our hands and go out… Some people don’t care but you need to respect the game.”
The Malaysian captain believes his team has an advantage because they are small and quick, harder to hit with a ball than the beefier Canadians and Americans.
The Australians are incredibly self-deprecating and a little silly. Many of them have intricate facial hair.
The Hong Kong team is fiercely serious about teamwork and eager to prove themselves in international competition.
"We focus on building each other up and just being selfless. That is a lot of what I care about since dodgeball is such a team sport," said Jeff Floro, the captain of the Hong Kong men’s team and also the man in charge of the host committee for the entire event.
A last minute dispute with Singapore left the tournament one team short, forcing the organizers to pull a group of ringers from the local ranks and dub them “the Kowloon team,” named for the city across the bay from Hong Kong.
It wouldn’t really be a global competition if Canada and the United States didn’t consider this a grudge match, exclusively between the neighboring countries.
“Canada and the US have a rivalry in pretty much every sport and dodgeball is no different,” Moffat, a brawny 37-year-old whose day job finds him working at a Canadian university as a professor of international trade, explained. “The Americans are the hardest throwing team. We can’t get too close to them when they throw so our defense keeps their distance.”
"I’m not a huge fan of Canada, mostly the dodgeball team," USA co-captain Santiago Granillo said. "I mean, they are nice guys, great competitors, but they’ve had our number for the past few years."
Nicole Ferro, the American women’s captain from Team USA, described the woman’s competition with Canada as nothing short of a grudge match, but revealed that she brought a secret weapon with her to Hong Kong.
“I have a 17-year old phenom this year,” the 29-year old advertising exec from Los Angeles, said. “Her name is Megan Fricker. I recruited her. She has a killer arm.”
Warm-ups were short and sweet and the excitement in Queen Elizabeth stadium for the competitors and the dodgeball enthusiasts who joined them in the stands was palpable.
Former world champs, Hong Kong, took bronze in an exciting match versus Malaysia. They’d lost a close match to Malaysia earlier in the round robin round, but won by a wider margin in the bronze match.
Young, small and quick—the Malaysian team is a force to be reckoned with. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
While the home team was definitely the crowd favorite, the Malaysian men’s team was by far the youngest and most fun team to watch. Their strategies were certainly the most unique, with their capoeira -like moves that faked out their opponents. At the end of the day, age over beauty prevailed, but Malaysia could very well be the team to beat in years to come.
The women’s match-ups were similarly intense. Ferro’s phenom pulled through with her excellent throwing arm. Even with the hometown crowd, the USA was too much for Hong Kong to handle and the American ladies took home the gold.
The Canadian men’s team is not messing around. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
In men’s competition, both the Americans and Canada packed their teams with power players. With a few exceptions, they were all heavy hitters. The Canadian team sported shaved heads and beards. Did this give them a competitive advantage? Who can say. But at the end of the day, the men from the Great White North remained calm and took home the gold.