The word most often used to describe real-life games of quidditch is “chaos,” according to the person who oversees much of its play in Canada.
The sport came to life in 2005 when two college students decided to see how the magical game described in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books would play out to life. But while Harry Potter and his classmates soared through the air on flying broomsticks, real-life players remain firmly on the ground, “riding” three-foot lengths of PVC pipe.
“Dodgeballs are flying across the air. People are being tackled into each other. Yeah, it’s a chaotic game,” Yara Kodershah, Quidditch Canada’s executive director, told Day 6 guest host Saroja Coelho.
But for many players around the world, including those in Canada, quidditch won’t be “quidditch” for much longer.
Three of the sport’s governing bodies recently announced that they’re officially changing its name to “quadball,” both out of trademark concerns and a desire to distance themselves from Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling in light of her controversial comments in recent years.
Sport’s name to change in 2023
Warner Bros., the studio behind the Harry Potter movies, owns the trademark on the word quidditch, which limited the sport’s ability to expand or to pursue “sponsorship and broadcast opportunities,” according to Major League Quadball (MLQ) and US Quadball (USQ).
What’s more, LGBTQ advocacy organizations have accused Rowling of transphobia after a series of inflammatory statements on gender identity, which the leagues feel run counter to quidditch’s “reputation as one of the most progressive sports in the world on gender equality and inclusivity.”
Quidditch Canada says it is “strongly in support” of this decision by other governing bodies, and has announced that it will also be pursuing a name change starting in January 2023.
It noted Rowling’s “continued anti-trans remarks” as the impetus for the change, as well as Indigenous scholars’ claims of cultural appropriation in Rowling’s writing.
“There is the ongoing transphobia that has been expressed in J.K. Rowling’s comments over the years […] that really contradicts with our own values as an organization,” Kodershah told Coelho.
“I’d say once those statements became popularized was really when there was a sort of unbridgeable schism between our sport and her stories.”
‘Anger and disdain’ at Rowling’s remarks
Michael Howard, head coach of Canada’s national quidditch team, said that “anger and disdain” at Rowling’s statements have long been present in the quidditch community.
“There’s a sense of release, that this community that’s been a super-welcoming environment, especially in the sports world, can move away from that,” he said.
The Internaional Quadball Association (IQA) has worked to affirm gender inclusivity with an official “gender rule,” which states that a team cannot field more than four players who identify as the same gender at the same time.
Each team has six or seven players on the pitch in total, depending on the phase of play. The rule is enforced based on players’ self-identified genders, according to Kodershah.
“It has nothing to do with assigned sex, it has nothing to do with their physical body. It has exclusively to do with how people identify,” Kodershah said.
“What this rule has allowed us to do is be a sport that is designed explicitly for trans and nonbinary and gender non-conforming people.”
The approach to gender in quidditch — or quadball — is part of a growing movement in sports to consider gender in a more inclusive way.
Howard acknowledges that the sport’s inclusive gender rule could end up being a barrier to quidditch being accepted into international sporting events such as the Olympics.
But he suggests that it’s governing bodies like the International Olympic Committee that should revise their rules about gender.
“I am excited by seeing the rise of co-ed sports competitions increasing, and seeing events with less rigid gender categories,” he said. “But there’s lots that will need to change before that [quidditch at the Olympics] happens.”
A sport like no other
Middlebury College students Xander Manshel and Alex Benepe were the ones who originallly adapted quidditch for real-life play. They were curious to see how the magical game described in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books would play out in real life.
The sport initially spread across college campuses but, as its popularity increased, high-level leagues, national teams, and governing bodies were established. Today, quidditch is played by “nearly 600 teams in 40 countries,” according to the IQA.
Howard says that although “most people think of it as live-action role playing, [quidditch is] a real sport that requires athleticism.”
“From the first open practice, I fell in love with the chaotic nature of the sport, and have been playing ever since,” he said.
Written and produced by Mickie Edwards.