“So, I’m going to be an announcer for the Quidditch World Cup this weekend. If you don’t know, Quidditch is the sport that is played in the Harry Potter books and movies. A few years ago, it was developed into a real sport where the participants can’t fly but must keep a broom between their legs at all times as they attempt to score goals against the other team. Before I announce any games, I’ve been trying to learn the terminology so that I can sound somewhat educated about it.
For example, the ball is not called a ball. It’s called a quaffle.
And, there are no goalies. They’re called Keepers.
It’s not a field. It’s called a pitch.
Oh, and they’re not even called players. They’re called ‘virgins’.”
As I got laughs from audiences with that bit, I clearly had no idea what to actually expect when I showed up on the fields last Saturday at 6 AM. Was this going to be like witnessing a less nerdy version of a Renaissance Faire? Would it be more like Frisbee Golf, inundated with entitled slackers? Or would it be closer to live action role play, with attendees dressed as wizards and witches and dragons?
What I witnessed was none of those things. I saw a fast-paced, full contact, co-ed sport that was brutal, complex, and when played by an experienced team, elegantly executed. The element that I thought would be the silliest, the requirement that each player run with a broom tucked between his or her legs, barely registered with me as I watched each match. Twelve players colliding on a field smaller than a hockey rink, three balls used to knock players out, one ball used to score, six referees judging and making calls, a neutral player (attached to a ball that ends the game) being chased independently by two additional players, and a game time of 15-25 minutes means that you don’t have time to care about the fact that this sport sprouted from a children’s book about a wizard. There’s not enough downtime to think about the brooms or the fervent Harry Potter fandom that must have generated the initial interest to develop this as a real sport in 2005.
With men and women colliding, grappling for balls, tackling and blocking, and forcibly moving down the pitch, wearing little to no head protection, mouthguards, eyewear, or protective body gear, it’s not surprising that there are injuries. From scrapes and cuts to broken collarbones and dislocated shoulders, the results of these matches erase any doubt in any spectator’s mind of Quidditch being a “real sport”. It is real, it is brutal, and it is fascinating.
Any doubts I had about the legitimacy of Quidditch (or Muggle Quidditch as it’s sometimes called) were rapidly erased as I announced or spectated match after match. I saw fantastic blocks, amazing passes, sharp strategy, and great sportsmanship. (Well, with the exception of the mother of one of the Loyola University Chicago Lumos players who complained that I was disrespectful to the team, but you always have one of those people.) Almost every athlete was enthusiastic and passionate, whether they were from France, Mexico, Canada, or even Orlando itself. The coordinators and leaders were hard-working and dedicated, and the entire event was run like a machine that isn’t quite well-oiled but almost there.
Yeah, there are still a few rough edges. The International Quidditch Association is comprised largely, if not completely, of volunteers, which means that you don’t see some of the structure that should exist. As the sport continues to grow, which it will, I think there will be dedicated referees and snitches (neutral players who must avoid both teams equally), not volunteers who play for other teams, which will tighten the standards needed to be truly fair. I’m sure that professional announcers will replace the players who volunteer, which will add a level of gravity and professionalism that may otherwise be lacking in the commentating. And the players should all get free food and drink, because without the teams, there’s no sport.
The tangible realization of what had to be someone’s mushroom-fueled imagination has transmogrified into a legitimate sport that takes finesse, skill, and strategy. The current players, a seamless blend of natural athletes and those who may never have before considered playing a sport, all share in their passion of the game. Everyone, no matter how pudgy, diminutive, or uncoordinated, can have a place in the world of Quidditch, and that’s one of its tremendous appeals. In the future, though, I predict that corporate sponsors and expansion of the sport will result in trained athletes taking over, relegating the enthusiastic players to the background.
Had there been a Quidditch team comprised entirely of football, basketball, lacrosse, and baseball players at this World Cup, I think it would have been unstoppable, but hopefully the IQA and other organizations can hold onto the fun while still allowing the sport to expand to accommodate the demand from fans and participants alike.
And, who knows? Maybe one day, those brooms will actually fly.