Alternative sports eager for exposure

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Think of the World Games as an alternative Olympics. The Games, which open today in northern Japan, are held every four years and draw thousands of athletes from more than two dozen sports.

But instead of basketball, there is korfball, a similar but decidedly more obscure game thought up by the Dutch. Instead of gymnastics, there is ballroom dancing. And tug-of-war. And casting, as in what one does when fishing.

This year's World Games, for sports not featured in the Olympics, will continue until 26 August in Akita. More than 3,000 athletes and officials will participate in 26 official and five demonstration sports.

For the traditionalists, there is rugby, bowling and billiards. For others there is life-saving, flying disc and fin-swimming.

The first World Games were held in Santa Clara, California, in 1981 after a group of 12 international sports federations joined forces in an effort to give their sports more exposure.

In flying disc, better known as frisbee, there are 10 disciplines, including men's and women's flying disc golf and a mixed team ultimate flying disc competition, a frisbee version of American football in which players pass the disc until they reach the opponent's end zone.

For those looking for something a little more refined there is dancesport, with competitors taking part in 10 different disciplines including waltz and tango.

In billiards, Britain, the Netherlands and Thailand produce some of the best players while the United States, Japan and South Korea are among the favourites in pool. France, Belgium and Germany, meanwhile are strong in carom, a game that is played on a table without pockets.