Harry Potter: Quidditch for Muggles

Quidditch players explain the game

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Quidditch, the game popularised in the Harry Potter books, is now being played by students around the world. So just how do you turn a magical sport into something that can be played in real life?

As a group of college students gather on a cold Sunday morning outside the White House for their weekly sports practice, it's hard not to smirk.

Watching adults run around the field with household brooms and mops between their legs, wearing makeshift wizards' capes, is quite a sight, after all. But in non-wizarding society (or the muggle world, for those of you in the know), one has to improvise.

"A Quidditch game might look crazy to somebody who's never seen it before," says Mariah Hegelson, treasurer of the George Washington University team, in Washington DC.

"But to an external observer watching a basketball game for the first time, that might look crazy too," she says, without a hint of irony.

For those who have managed to escape all things Harry Potter, Quidditch is the fictional sport popularised in JK Rowling's best-selling books.

Quidditch World Cup The fourth annual Quidditch World Cup was held in New York in November

Quidditch is to wizards what football is to humans. In the books, Harry Potter and his friends play the sport at school. There is also a professional league, and even a Quidditch world cup.

It was only to be expected that children brought up on the books - the first was published way back in 1997 - would want to play it in real life.

The first key step towards creating a muggle version of the game was taken by Xander Manshel, a student at Middlebury college in the US state of Vermont, in 2005. Along with his friend Alex Benepe, he rounded up a group of students prepared to give it a try, sticking as closely as possible to the game played by Harry Potter.

Gravity

This includes the broomsticks.

"We all wish we could fly, we just have to deal with the realities of gravity," says Mariah Hegelson.

"Our generation grew up reading it, so playing Quidditch has sort of been a dream. People hold the books dearly in their hearts, so are happy to make it real."

The rules of the human game are similar to those followed in the wizarding world.

Quidditch pitch

There are seven players on each team, including:

  • Three chasers, who score by throwing a ball known as the quaffle through one of three goals - hula hoops on sticks
  • Two beaters, who throw balls known as bludgers at the opposing team, in an attempt to stop them scoring
  • A keeper, who guards the goals
  • A seeker, whose job is to catch the prized golden snitch - an action which ends the game

In the fictional game, the snitch is a small magical ball with wings. It is very small and very fast, and very hard to catch.

Human snitch

Step forward Miles Millican, who - for this George Washington University training session - makes up for the fact that a real-life snitch does not have wings.

Start Quote

Quidditch is a cross between rugby, dodgeball, tag and basketball - but with brooms”

End Quote Alex Benepe President of the International Quidditch Association

He is dressed in bright yellow, and his mission is to race around the field at high speed, the snitch dangling from his back.

"Not having magic, we use a ball in a sock," explains Miles. "I run around making sure it doesn't get caught, while seekers run around making sure it does."

Snaring the snitch is important. It not only wins your team 30 points (whittled down from 150 in the books), it also ends the game.

In the books, it is the Ministry of Magic which determines the rules. As there is no government agency that bears this responsibility in the muggle world, it is left to the International Quidditch Association (IQA). It has published a hefty rulebook for high schools and colleges, written by Alex Benepe, the IQA's president.

"Quidditch requires a lot of strategy. It's a cross between rugby, dodgeball, tag and basketball - but with brooms," he explains.

Since the inaugural game at Middlebury College in 2005, it has acquired a worldwide following.

The IQA has been contacted by players of the game as far afield as Japan, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Colombia and Finland.

Mr Benepe estimates it is played at more than 1,200 schools and colleges worldwide, with at least 200-300 active teams.

Quidditch's appeal is universal, he says.

Olympic goal

"Everybody plays it. We've had people from all walks of life, not just Harry Potter fans," he says.

"We get chess fanatics who've never played a sport before, alongside varsity soccer players."

One blogger has described Quidditch as a sport that threatens "to cause a rip in the very fabric of the nerd-jock continuum".

The Quidditch World Cup Quidditch is said to appeal to "nerds" and "jocks" alike - and all those in between

There have been calls for the game to be recognised by the NCAA - the National Collegiate Athletic Association - and given the same status as other college sports such as basketball and football.

But the IQA isn't itself pushing for such a change. For Alex Benepe, the essence of Quidditch is light-hearted.

"The brooms maintain the sport's tongue-in-cheek atmosphere," he says.

"At the end of the day, Quidditch is really a game and I think that a lot of NCAA sports people are very serious about their sport, and that's their life."

Nonetheless, he has big ambitions.

The IQA hosted the fourth Quidditch World Cup in New York in November 2010, with teams from across the United States, including Harvard and Yale, taking part.

But Mr Benepe is already looking beyond the World Cup - he wants to host a Quidditch exhibition match at the 2012 Olympics.

It might seem like a ridiculous idea, but given that he's managed to persuade thousands of students to run around on brooms for fun, he may not need magic for this ambition to become reality too.

A selection of your comments:

It looks a bit silly but it seems like a lot of fun and less dangerous than in the book. I remember noticing that in the book both boys and girls took it seriously and it seems like one of the few games that can be played by both sexes at the same time.

Karen, Sheffield, England

This game could be made much more exciting and "realistic" by motorising it. The snitch could be a radio-controlled car; even the electric ones are just as fast as the fictional item, while the fuel-powered ones are even faster.

George McKee, Texas

Brilliant, I love it. This is the first time I've heard of muggle Quidditch. We should all lobby Boris and Seb to see if we can get a Quidditch exhibition game staged at the Emirates or Stamford Bridge during the Olympics.

Euan Davies, London

It may look daft, but the same can be said for wearing a peg on your nose, tight fitting rubber on your head, and then swimming round in circles to music!

Nathan, Maidstone, England

Brilliant idea but if they are going to have a Quidditch World Cup then teams from UK universities need to be included. As it says in the book "Ireland are the Quidditch World Champions beating Romania."

Louise, Castlerock Northern Ireland

Radio controlled cars sadly don't work. They're fast enough but the person trying to catch it has an unfortunate tendency to step on it - or whack it with the broom. We also have signal problems over 30 yards or so.

Tony, Cardiff

I think this is a really good idea and will make people know more about the books and want to read them, which means more Harry Potter fans in the world and that would be good.

Abi Moore (aged 10), Birmingham, England

I suppose this will be the first game designed for astronauts - as soon as there is a space station big enough to contain a weightless Quidditch pitch.

Simon Morrison, Truro, UK

I could imagine substituting the broom for various xgame gear. Put chasers on skateboards, beaters in rollerblades, seekers on bikes. Keepers could be on pogo sticks or something. Make the the snitch using lazers. Any action a players make while touching the ground would not count: scoring, catching the snitch. Imagine beaters knocking down skaters with a heavy bludger- awesome! Remember: using Magic is not allowed!

SSarles, Pennsylvania, US

I really hope they DO host a Quidditch Exhibition at 2012 Olympics. Sounds like a good laugh to watch as well as to play.

Genevieve Faulkner, Hornchuch, Essex

There will be somebody in the world who will read this and work out how to create a working radio-controlled flying snitch, with enough range to cover the pitch. One day this could be mainstream. And as J K Rowling is British, the Quidditch world cup should ideally include British teams.

Jo Lee, Morley, England

They should *definitely* consider getting a remote-controlled flying snitch; with those really fast-flying helicopters and planes around, they could certainly make a small and light golden-coloured object that's robust enough not to break when being grabbed and that can fly around fast enough to be chased! There could then be a neutral person off the pitch controlling it at a height reachable by the seekers. Would be far more realistic and more fun!

Harry Peto, London

Olympic Quidditch! Yes please! As a great-grandmother (but not a Harry Potter fan) I think a (slightly ridiculous) game played purely for the fun of it would be the best possible representation of the spirit of the Olympics. Long live Muggle Quidditch!!!

Jenny, Bolton

The University of Nottingham has a thriving Qudditich Society. When I first saw it being played, it looked ridiculous, but from hearing the enthusiasm of my friends talk about it, it should definitely become a bona fide sport!

Fiona, Nottingham

Remote control snitches really aren't as much fun. If you've ever witnessed a game, you'd understand why the human snitch is a necessity. The snitch is something that needs character that any amount of remote control object just can't establish. And they're not limited the bounds of the field. Just like in the movies the snitch isn't bound by the towers. It makes it a little more challenging to give the snitch reign of a larger area so they can run around and hide (albeit not IN buildings).

Blake, Okemos, Michigan, USA

I think you muggles should leave it to the real wizards! It would be like playing polo on rocking horses! Or racing F1 in cardboard boxes!

Chris, Ballycastle, Northern Ireland

The problem with any radio controlled flying device is that we do not fly. Also, the radio controlled planes are way too fast to catch. The benefit of a human snitch, if you watch them in action, is the entertainment value as you see the snitch body slam a seeker then throw the seeker to the ground.

Andrew, NY, USA

I must say "Whack Bat" from the film The Fantastic Mr. Fox would be much more exciting! Agreed?

Matthias Merges, Chicago, United States

I can't help but wonder at the injury potential of a) running with a broom between your legs, and b) accidentally spearing that broom handle at people you are trying to fight for posession of the ball.

Julie, Leicester

Having invented the game it is essential that we Brits play so that we can disastrously lose on most occasions.

Peter, Cambridge

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