Quidditch, that once fictional game is finding a loyal following among students. We catch up with devotees to find out the state of play

Words: Libby Norman

Quidditch, that game in Harry Potter that required wizard powers and real broomsticks has, by some strange magic, become a real sport. Not only that, but it’s played in some 40 countries and with a set of rules and grassroots approach that makes it fast-paced, fun and with a real sense of community. In fact, if you are looking for a game that ticks boxes for 21st-century sporting ideals around inclusivity, quidditch would be a good place to start.

It emerged when a couple of Vermont college students set out to take the rules from the Harry Potter books and codify them to create a game Muggles could play. This was back in 2005, and since then it has developed structures, nationally and internationally.  QuidditchUK (QUK) started out playing to those Vermont rules, but it is now a full member of the International Quidditch Association. Other active nations include Canada, Chile, Australia, Argentina, Turkey and several European countries. There are emerging and associate members spanning the globe, from Japan and Pakistan to Uganda and Vietnam. As a full member, QUK participates in rule making and changing – ensuring the game works as it continues to grow.

A Liverpool Vs Warwick
Quidditch is fast and fun, and with mixed sex play in large teams. This means anyone can play and rules are set to ensure no team dominates through ‘might’

Beck Throup, QUK Media Director began playing the sport while she was at University of Bristol and believes the secret of its growth is the community spirit involved. “It’s a well-loved sport – a small community of a few hundred players in the UK, but it’s such a tight community,” she says. It may be diminutive but it’s gathering momentum and QUK recently hosted its national championships involving a community league for the first time, alongside the university league.

When you consider that a full team complement is 21 players (due to the number of substitutions), you get the sense of what an inclusive activity this can be. Also, and this is vital, it’s mixed sex and with scope for every body type. “There’s no stereotypical quidditch player. I’m five foot two and then you’ve got six-foot rugby lads – you’ve got so many different ways of playing the game and so many tactics involved that it always ends up fairly evenly matched. The only thing that tends to affect the outcome is if one team doesn’t have its full roster of 21 players.”

“There’s a lot happening on the pitch in quidditch – It’s essentially a cross between rugby, dodgeball and wrestling”

Throup was drawn in, like a lot of people, by the idea of playing a game she’d read about. “I did love the Harry Potter books and I met the captain of the quidditch team at a party and I promised I’d come to training – and about a year later I showed up!” She enjoys the fact that this is a game of equals. “That’s important to us to a degree where it’s actually in the international rule book. We have a Gender Rule, where you can only have four people of any one gender on the pitch at any one time. Referees and officials are made aware of all the players on each team’s gender, for when they are subbing on and off.” This ensures a balance of weight and strength or, as Throup puts it: “You don’t have a team of seven rugby lads on the pitch at any time”.

Wizard play – the wonderful world of quidditch
The game is really popular with university students, but youth outreach is key to its growth

QUK is building a youth outreach programme to work with younger players – including through schools who want to organise games or taster sessions. There are also, curiously, a fair few enquiries from stag and hen parties who want something different. “There’s a lot of goodwill,” says Throup. “Even when people retire from play a lot of them stick around in the community and volunteer, as well as coming to tournaments. These volunteers are essential to running the sport.”

Watch a game in play, and you can see why people stick around – there’s a lot happening on the pitch. “It’s essentially a cross between rugby, dodgeball and wrestling,” says Beck Throup. “It’s great fun to watch.” There’s enough complexity in quidditch to keep those who love rules in clover, while those who don’t will still find it thrilling, if mystifying. With seven players on each team in play at any time, the aim is to outscore opponents by getting the quaffle (a volleyball) through one of three opposition hoops. Each team defends their own hoops with tackles and bludgers (dodgeballs).

The game ends when the winning team has a legal catch on the snitch (a neutral player, who enters play 15 minutes in wearing what is effectively a tennis ball in a sock attached to the back of their shorts) or when one team has a 30-point lead. You can understand why students love it: fast, fun and a bit wacky – not least because you play while holding a broom handle between your legs.

Wizard play – the wonderful world of quidditch
The snitch plays for no side and, as with J.K. Rowling’s marvellous fictional invention in Harry Potter, adds a real edge to the game

While the game is, at 17 years old, a newcomer, it’s looking ahead. One current discussion centres on whether the name should be changed. “As we’re moving away from ‘oh there’s that sport in the Harry Potter books’, it will be interesting to see where we go,” says Beck Throup. A two-year goal for QUK is to get quidditch recognised here as a sport. So, next stop the Olympics? Beck Throup believes there’s a fair way to go yet, but then again, 30 years ago no one would have bet on skateboarding or BMX earning Olympic stripes. For quidditch fans everywhere, there’s everything still to play for – and, most importantly, they’re having a wizard time.   

* QuidditchUK; quidditchuk.org

Further reading: Girls on top – why football is so cool for girls