For millions of Harry Potter fans around the world it has captivated the imagination and, for increasing numbers, provides an extra-curricular purpose. But can Quidditch, deriving from fiction, truly be classed as a sport? And if so, is it time we ended our prejudice?
YES: With continuous running, full body tackling and hand-eye coordination, Quidditch more than compensates for arriving a little bit late to the sport-establishment game. And it got there while the bar is low: the most recent series of Olympic games included one-percenter ‘sports’ like sailing, golf, shooting and equestrianism. If your problem is its fictitious foundation, you have to admit that Quidditch beats the oppressive, classist foundation of inaccessible equestrianism or traditionally animal-unfriendly shooting.
Other complaints against Quidditch fall equally short. Elise Lugouy explains that, in the UK, Quidditch has 40 teams, with tryouts for a professional league on the way, destroying any illusions Quidditch-haters might have about the lack of competition. Beaters, seekers, keepers and snitches alike take their sport seriously. The Holyrood Hippogriffs practice for six hours a week and travel most weekends, with upcoming trips to Oxford and Durham.
If it is the athleticism you find lacking, the Hippogriffs are ready to comment on that, too. A very muddied Trym Berge, fresh off the field, commented: “It’s very physical, it’s a lot of contact and your physical fitness definitely determines the outcome of the game […] That’s what a sport is, when it’s physical and the physicality determines the outcome.”
The biggest complaint leveled against Quidditch might be that the added element of running around with a broom between your legs is weird. Remember, however, that handballers can’t move with the ball, some divers have to stay synchronised, and there is an Olympic sport that takes place on a trampoline. As far as weird goes, Quidditch will always come second to sports like water polo, badminton, bobsledding, and sumo wrestling.
If anything, Quidditch can help to delegitimise the broader institution of sport, calling into question the bizarre and equally purposeful or purposeless sports (Quidditch has a winner, too). Before you act as a gatekeeper for Quidditch, check what has already been admitted beyond that gate.
If we are able to accept that some players feel the need to gain or lose weight, shave everything, wear protective gear around their genitals, submerge themselves in water, strap their feet to boards or fling themselves over poles to play sport, then we need to accept the players who feel the need to be inspired by fiction.
Sport is for everyone. It’s time to let the Potterheads in.
NO: First, we need to define ‘sport’. In technical terms, this is an activity involving physical exertion and skill, and including an element of competition. Fair enough. But for me, a sport needs to be real, and it needs to earn its validity as a sport.
With this in mind, we also need to define which version of Quidditch we are talking about. As a fictional game invented by JK Rowling for her fictional Harry Potter series, the original Quidditch in our reality is not a sport, because it’s not real.
‘Quidditch’, invented in 2005, does admittedly adhere to the definition, but its unsuccessful attempt to emulate JK Rowling’s version still makes it, in my eyes at least, distinctly dubious. ‘Quidditch’ is played worldwide, has complex rules, and is surprisingly brutal. The game uses many of the same terms as the original fictional pastime, but the fundamental issue remains that magic simply does not exist. Therefore, players run around with poles between their legs in lieu of flying broomsticks, and the various balls are forced to submit to the rules of gravity.
To be honest, I think something has been lost in translation. ‘Quidditch’ is absolutely a sport if you define it by the technical terms mentioned previously. However, the game on which it is based is essentially impossible, and the idea of earnestly recreating something from a children’s book seems a little naive.
This is not a game for us in the real world. No matter how ridiculous true sports are, there is usually a long and respectable history involved. ‘Quidditch’ is based on the lucrative imaginings of a children’s author, and involves someone running around with a ball stuffed into a sock attached to their arse. It might technically be a sport, but everyone knows it doesn’t deserve to be one. It’s just not Quidditch.
Image courtesy John Loo