Quidditch isn’t something that most people have to schedule tutorials around. When told about it, many people ask if it’s actually real. But the bruises and aches through your body feel as real as any rowing, football, or rugby injury. In fact, quidditch (we use a lower case ‘q’ when talking about the sport) has been around for several years now – and it just keeps on attracting new audiences.
Let’s clear one thing up right now – no, we can’t fly. Other than that, the game is remarkably similar to the sport from Harry Potter. Each team has 7 players on the pitch, each carrying a broom (generally a length of wood or PVC) between their legs. There are 3 chasers, who take the quaffle (a semi-deflated volleyball) and put it through the hoops for 10 points a time. They have to watch out for the beaters (2 on each team), who have dodgeballs. If you’re hit by one, you have to get off your broom and run back to your hoops, before rejoining play. Finally, the seekers try and catch the snitch, who is someone dressed in yellow with a sock and tennis ball hanging out the back of their shorts. If a seeker can win that mini game of tag rugby, and grab the snitch, then that team gets 30 points (rather than the huge amount from the books, because JK Rowling doesn’t know how balanced sports work) and the game ends.
The sport is very much full-contact, and remarkably physical – if you’re expecting a bunch of people who have more interest in Harry Potter than in athletics, you’ll be disappointed. But it’s also perhaps the most inclusive sport in the world. It is open to anyone of any gender – that includes those who do not conform to the gender binary, such as agender individuals. In fact, the official rulebook states that: “During a quidditch game, each team must have at least two players in play who identify with a different gender than at least two other players. The gender that a player identifies with is considered to be that player’s gender.” This allows anyone, regardless of gender, to take part in the sport at an equal level.
When someone I met told me about quidditch before university, and I mentioned I had an offer from Oxford, they told me that I was lucky, as I would be “joining the Manchester United of quidditch”. I can see how right they were – Oxford is at the top of the European quidditch world.
We hosted the first annual British and Irish Quidditch Cup last November, which had 16 teams from across the British Isles take part – and our first team, the Radcliffe Chimeras, went and won it. That team then went on to play in the first ever European Quidditch Cup in Brussels this year – and they won, beating one of the two Paris teams to become European Champions. In fact, so many people wanted to get involved that we had to set up a second team for the current academic year – the Quidlings, who have created their own team identity and gone on to make their mark nationally, finishing in the top 7 in the British Quidditch Cup. Oxford University Quidditch Club also has no fewer than 9 players on the 21-strong squad that will represent the United Kingdom in the Global Games this summer in Vancouver, taking on the best national teams the world has to offer.
A lot of you might be reading this and wondering whether this sport is really for you. It’s a fair enough concern – with two or three practices a week, and regular fixtures, quidditch is hardly relaxing. It takes a lot of hard work. But don’t let that put you off – it’s also regularly reported as one of the most welcoming communities out there, not just within Oxford, but across every team that makes up this sport. I feel honoured to be able to call some of the people I see every week at quidditch some of my best friends – and I guarantee that if you come along to a couple of practices yourself, you’ll be hooked too.
It’s an exciting time for quidditch – the International Quidditch Association (IQA) has just had a major reshuffle, allowing Quidditch UK (the FA to the IQA’s FIFA, if you want to get football-y about things) far more autonomy in setting up national competitions. We practice every Wednesday and Saturday in University Parks at 2pm, and newcomers are very much welcome.
Whatever your preconceptions are of the sport, come along and give it a go – nobody leaves disappointed. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be helping lift our next trophy with us.