There are thousands of people all over the globe playing Quidditch. Brooms between their legs they are sprinting, tackling and throwing – and there isn’t a Hogwarts cape in sight…
If you weren’t aware that the magical sport had jumped out of JK Rowling’s novels and onto the sports pitch, you’re not alone. But it has been going for over a decade now, Nic Hirst, the President of Quidditch Australia, tells RadioTimes.com: “It started in America, with some college kids – probably drunk – running around on brooms who thought, ‘why don’t we actually do this a bit more seriously?’ They got a few more universities involved and it kind of snowballed from there.”
In the UK there are now 32 teams. The majority of them are university based but some are community teams, where anyone can turn up for training. “You can just have fun. That’s the kind of culture we have,” says Hirst.
It’s also officially recognised as a sport in its own right. “In the UK we are now part of the Sports and Recreation Alliance which means we are treated on the same level as football, which is really cool,” Thomas Ffiske from Quidditch UK explains.
“This is a serious sport with a set rule book”
In fact, this weekend sees the sport’s biggest event to date. There will be 21 countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Italy, South Korea and Norway, competing in the Quidditch World Cup. (There was almost a country from every continent, until visa issues prevented the Ugandan team from travelling to Frankfurt for the competition.) Apparently USA are the favourites, but the UK are “really, really good” so it’s all to play for.
“This is a serious sport with a set rule book,” says Ffiske. “We have a long term goal to try and get it as taken as seriously as possible, which may mean the Olympics as well.”
Of course, Quidditch has had to adapt to its new muggle setting. They still have chasers, beaters, keepers and seekers, but, for obvious reasons all players have their feet firmly on the ground.
They play with PVC pipes rather than real brooms. “It’s safer, but you do get worse bruises,” says Hirst.
And the snitch isn’t a tiny golden flying ball, it’s a person wearing yellow. “The snitch comes onto the pitch 18 minutes into the game. Catching the ball, which is a velcro tail on their shorts, is worth 30 points not 150. It still ends the game but we chose 30 because it’s a little bit unfair otherwise, all things considered,” says Ffiske.
“The snitch used to be able to go off the pitch initially. It could literally go anywhere, so we’ve had cases where the snitch goes on the bus and the seekers have to chase them. We’ve dashed that rule. Now everyone needs to stay on the pitch itself!”
“Quidditch players are bankers, cinema managers, people who work in IT”
It might have blossomed at universities but there aren’t any age limits. The oldest UK player is currently 42, but over in Oz they’ve had a national player who was aged 55. “We have bankers, cinema managers. People who work in IT, public relations, publishing and insurance.”
“We are proud of how inclusive Quidditch is when it comes to gender too,” adds Ffiske. “We have rules within Quidditch to make sure that male, female, transgender and non-binary people can play equally. We believe that all that matters is skill.”
Skill, and “being hard,” laughs Hirst. Because this is a mixed-gender contact sport. And it’s not a gentle one at that.
They tell me it’s somewhere between rugby and dodgeball, with elements of netball, tag and handball. “It’s dangerous. It’s a contact sport… There is tackling and you do tackle to the ground. It can be pretty brutal,” grins Hirst. “But it’s suited to everyone. There are so many different roles within the game. It’s not just about who’s the biggest, the toughest, the fastest.”
That said, “broken noses aren’t uncommon,” admits Ffiske.
You don’t have to be sporty, but it certainly sounds like it helps: “Basically everyone’s first impression is like, ‘Oh it’s not just jogging around. It’s actually intense and athletic,” says Hirst.
“Broken noses aren’t uncommon”
There is also one unofficial – and surprising – Quidditch rule… “The thing you should never, ever do is wear a Harry Potter kit to training because you will be laughed at,” says Ffiske.
You don’t even have to be a Harry Potter fan to play. “It’s not Harry Potter anymore. Quidditch is Quidditch,” says Hirst, adding: “I’d say 90% of people have read Harry Potter. Whether they are Harry Potter fans now is another question. The captain of the Australian team has actually never read the Harry Potter books or seen the movies.
“A lot of people come because their friends are playing or they’ve heard about this fun, quirky thing. They don’t especially care about Harry Potter but they come in, they play it, they love it and they stick around.”
It seems the reason they “stick around” is the people that make up the Quidditch community. “I like the openness,” says Hirst. “Everyone is accepting of everyone. Gender doesn’t matter, race doesn’t matter, sexuality doesn’t matter. The community will accommodate anyone. No matter what your beliefs, or how sporty you are, we accept you. Anyone can come in.”
“Never, ever wear a Harry Potter kit to training”
“People who come and watch are surprised that after the matches opposing sides hug each other,” adds Ffiske. “We are all still friends in the end which is rarer for other sports.”
“Quidditch has been called the world’s most progressive sport because of its inclusivity. That’s something we are very proud of.”
Find out more about Quidditch UK, the Quidditch World Cup and how to find your local team at quidditchuk.org