I know what you’re thinking- isn’t Quidditch the fictional sport where wizards fly around on broomsticks trying to catch magical balls?
Yes, and no. Although Quidditch has its roots in Harry Potter, it is so much more than that. Although not recognised by Sports England (meaning Quidditch players are not eligible for a blue), Quidditch is one of the fastest growing sports, with over 800 players throughout the UK. Encompassing elements of handball, dodgeball, and rugby, Quidditch is also unique in being one of the only full-contact, mixed gender team sports in the world.
Established by students at Middlebury College (USA) in 2005, Quidditch is now played in over 40 countries worldwide. As a fast-paced, competitive, mixed gender sport, Quidditch has gained popularity, with teams competing annually in local, regional, national and international tournaments.
So, how does it work? Each team consists of 7 players, divided between 4 positions. There are 3 chasers, 1 keeper, 2 beaters and a seeker, like in Harry Potter, each of which have different roles whilst on pitch. To tell the positions apart, players wear headbands of varying colours, and each colour designates their position in the game. Chasers wear white, beaters wear black, keepers wear green, and seekers wear yellow. As well as a diverse range of positions, up to 5 balls of different types are on pitch at all times. All of this activity on pitch makes the game even more exciting.
Like the wizarding sport, “Muggle Quidditch” is played using broomsticks, but, unfortunately, they don’t fly! Made of roughly 1m of PVC piping, our broomsticks act as a handicap, much in the same way as not using your hands in football. Running with a broom is a little tricky at first, but is something you quickly get used to!
At each end of the pitch, there are three hoops, of different sizes, which act as goals. The hoops are guarded by the keeper (who wears a green headband), while chasers try to score in the opposite hoops. Chasers and keepers can score by throwing, carrying and/or driving the Quaffle- a volleyball- through the hoops. Each hoop is worth 10 points.
Beaters attempt to hit the opposing team’s players with bludgers. These are slightly deflated dodgeballs which are used to knock opposing players out of the game. If a player is hit with a bludger, they are “beat” and must dismount their broom and tap back in at their own hoops before they can re-join the game.
With three bludgers and four beaters in total on pitch at any one time, competition is fierce, and teams often attempt to steal the opposing teams bludgers to gain bludger control. Beating is therefore one of the most tactical and strategic elements of the game. On both offense and defence, beaters use the bludgers to clear paths for a team’s chasers to score, and help keepers protect their own hoops.
Finally, there are the seekers. One of the most common questions we get asked when training is how the snitch works. Whilst the snitch does not fly, it is much smaller than the other balls as it is in the Harry Potter world. A referee known as the snitch runner attaches a sock with a tennis ball to the back of their shorts, which the seekers then have to catch to end the game. Snitches are only released 18 minutes into the game, and attempt to evade capture by the seekers. Snitches can run, dodge, and grapple with the seekers to ensure that they are not caught. Once a seeker catches the snitch, the match is over. Another key difference, however, is that the snitch is only worth 30 points, not 150 like in the Harry Potter version.
To first time viewers, the game can seem chaotic with 5 balls and 14 players on the pitch at any one time, but the complex strategy involved is what a lot of players enjoy about the game. Each game is always different – with the sheer number of tactical possibilities making it all the more exciting.
Of course, due to Covid-19, we have had to adapt the game slightly. In line with government guidance, teams must comply with social distancing restrictions, train in groups of six, with no contact permitted between players. Equipment is not shared between groups, and kit is cleaned before and after training. We also have plenty of masks and hand sanitizer at the ready to ensure player safety. All teams in the UK are also required to submit a Risk Assessment to Quidditch UK, the national Quidditch organisation, in order to resume training.
Most importantly, Quidditch is inclusive and diverse, and welcomes all players regardless of their background. Quidditch is for everyone, irrespective of age, experience, ability or gender- including those from an LGBTQ+ background and who identify within the trans or non-binary community.
Quidditch is one of the most progressive sports for gender equality. Positions are open to anyone, regardless of their gender identity, allowing all individuals to play as the gender they identify as within an open and accepting community.
One of the major rules is the gender rule: no more than 4 players from one team who identify as the same gender can be on pitch at a single time. This means that all players are valued based on their skills, not their genders. You will frequently see smaller players tackle players much larger than themselves- not something often seen in traditional single-sex sports!
While many of our members come from other sporting backgrounds, including rugby, hockey and gymnastics, Quidditch can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of ability. Whether you’re a top athlete, or a complete beginner, there is always a place for you on the pitch! Don’t worry about getting confused with rules or making a mistake, everyone on the team is friendly and happy to help- and with the six month break I think I dropped more balls than I caught last practice!
As a relatively new sport, quidditch is constantly evolving. The rules are updated on a regular basis, with new ideas, different gameplay styles and greater protection for players. With opportunities to help develop the sport on a team, national or international level, quidditch continually allows you to push yourself, no matter what level you’re at.
Here in Oxford, Oxford Universities Quidditch Club, welcomes students from both the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University. Originally established in 2011, Oxford boasts one of the oldest quidditch clubs in the world. Having dominated the early years of UK quidditch, Oxford has recently experienced a resurgence in success, with the Radcliffe Chimeras (the club’s first team) being crowned Development Cup champions in March 2020. While we may have to wait a while until the next tournament, the team is looking forward to continuing its success, hopefully reclaiming the title of national champions.
We are also lucky to train alongside the local community team, the Oxford Mammoths. Consisting of experienced players, the Mammoths help us to develop as a team and coach us during tournaments, as well as occasionally running joint socials together.
OUQC train regularly, on Wednesdays and Sundays at 2-4pm in University Parks. We also have regular socials, currently a mixture of online and face to face, where you can meet our players. Quidditch is a great way to get involved with sport at a university level, regardless of your previous sporting background or experience! “Quidditch is ridiculous in every single way, but quite frankly who cares? It’s the most fun you’ll ever have,” says Nadine Matough, President of OUQC.
So if you fancy giving quidditch a go, come along to one of our training sessions or follow the Oxford Universities Quidditch Club Facebook page.