Quidditch: I’m flying without wings

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South African International Student Ambassador Kat talks about the new millennium sport of Scotland - Quidditch.

Some sports become so culturally quintessential to a nation that they are inseparable from their country of origin. Is there anything more British than a fast bowler taking a tea break at Lord's Cricket Ground under horrible weather? Could the idea of an Australian be any more perfected than a boomerang-throwing wallaby out in the Outback? If you are playing an e-sport surrounded by thousands of adoring fans, can you just get your Korean citizenship already? In the case of Scotland, where one could be mistaken for thinking golf or unicorn hunting is the national pastime, the new millennium saw the arrival of a game destined to continue for millennia to come: Quidditch.

As Edinburgh is home to all things Harry Potter this also makes it home to the wizard world’s favourite sport. Should you ever find yourself wondering what real people playing a fictional sport looks like, then Edinburgh has the answer to all your queries. One small disclaimer (should you ever find yourself on the hallowed grounds of a Quidditch pitch) is to understand that not everyone understands. Where most sports warn of concussion and injuries (which Quidditch certainly has on offer) the average Quidditch player must be prepared to answer a serious amount of ridiculous questions. “How do you get up in the air?” or “How come the Snitch is a human being?” or “What broom have you got, a Firebolt?” - guaranteed to be hilarious.

Quidditch questions

The rules you may know

The muggle attempt at this wizard game has strictly adhered to the canon with seven players scoring 10 points per hoop until one team catches the snitch. Prepare yourself for a lot of words which you may not understand. Three members make up the chasers who aim to put a volleyball, or 'quaffle', through the upright hoops of their opponents which are defended by the opposing team. Two players use dodge balls, or 'bludgers', to hit their opponent’s body and force them to return to their hoops before continuing play. Finally, the seeker catches a tennis ball in a sock hanging out the snitch’s uniform to earn 30 points and bring the match to an end. Just like fictional Quidditch, the team with the most points after the snitch is caught is declared the winner and bathed in eternal glory or, usually, mud.

Quidditch game in play

The rules you may not know

Even a basic understanding of the fictional game does not fully explain the real game. For example, the earth bound version of Quidditch uses a 'gender rule' which requires no more than 4 people who identify as the same gender to be on the pitch at any time during a game. As Quidditch is a mixed gender sport, this rule aims to ensure an equal balance between the genders and prevent any side from dominating the game. Furthermore, where fictional Quidditch allows those who fall from their broom to remount and join the action, real Quidditch requires a dismounted player to return to their hoops, touch them and only then remount their broom. Finally, whilst fictional Quidditch has players stay in their given position, the real game allows players to change positions with a simple change of headbands, with black for beaters, white for chasers and green for the keeper. The snitch wears an all yellow outfit generally with yellow headband.

Quidditch player guarding their hoops

Of course there are some differences in real life

The major difference between fictional and real Quidditch, besides the flying brooms and possibility of dementor’s entering the game, is the issue of tackling. In fictional Quidditch, players are allowed to tackle each other at any time whilst in real Quidditch, the keeper is exempt from being tackled whenever they are in their zone immediately around their hoops. One of the requirements for a legal tackle in Quidditch is that the tackling player may only use one arm. This rule effectively ratchets down the aggression of a tackle so as to avoid the bone crunching fervour of a two-handed, rugby-like tackle. Finally, a player may not tackle from behind as this amounts to a penalty against the tackler. All in all, tackling is a much greater threat to the average Quidditch player than flying a cursed broom will ever be.

What’s in a name?

Just as in the books, Quidditch teams alliterate their names – such as the Holyhead Harpies. In keeping with this tradition, the Quidditch team of Edinburgh is called the Holyrood Hippogriffs. Practicing on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons at the Meadows, this group is open to all students, professionals or just locals curious to what all the fuss is about. As Edinburgh’s only Quidditch team they field enough players to support a first and second team which attends regular tournaments such as the Scottish and British Cup. The team is well managed and well coached by its depth of Quidditch aficionados so if you are considering taking up the sport then the Holyrood Hippogriffs are for you.

Quidditch tournament

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Quidditch may not be a sport everyone grew up loving but it is part of a story so many of us came to love. It may be that the game was merely perceived in one person’s mind for a fictional universe with no real examples to draw on but, as a wise man once said, why on earth should that mean it isn’t real? (That was Dumbledore for any Harry Potter novices out there).

Kat is from South Africa and is studying MSc Environmental Sustainability at Edinburgh Napier University.

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