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Health and wellness

Quidditch from Harry Potter brought to life in Hong Kong – broomsticks, bludgers, quaffle and a human golden snitch

University of Hong Kong Quidditch Club enact an earthbound version of the Hogwarts game as chasers dash between hoops, broomsticks between their legs, in a sport that combines rugby, dodgeball, tag and J.K Rowling rules

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 12:10pm

“Brooms up!” As the shout breaks the air above the grassy field, 10 players, five from each team, race from either end of the pitch to the centre to reach a volleyball and three dodgeballs lying there.

The players hold makeshift broomsticks between their legs as they dash across the field. This is how the game of quidditch is played at Happy Valley Sports Ground in Hong Kong.

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Their antics are inspired by the fictitious game played on the campus of Hogwarts in British novelist J.K. Rowling’s bestselling Harry Potter books. The novels were adapted for the big screen, and fans quickly embraced all things Potter, including quidditch.

The Hong Kong equivalent has developed rules and strategies to mimic the original game as faithfully as is practical. It mixes elements from rugby, dodgeball, and tag, and requires players to “ride” a “broomstick” at all times – generally a plastic tube or light metal bar that they hold between their legs.

The goal is for teams to score points by chasers (attackers) throwing the quaffle (a volleyball) through the other side’s hoops, which stand at either end of the field.

This form of quidditch is about one team being able to outmanoeuvre and outrun the other to place themselves in a position to score the next point.

One way to stop the other team from scoring is to use bludgers (two dodgeballs) with which to hit the opposing team’s attackers. If you get hit by a bludger you must go all the way back to your own hoops before you can resume playing. On the Hogwarts quidditch pitch, these bludgers were magically possessed objects that flew around randomly to knock out players.

Each team also has a seeker, the position Potter held and whose role is to catch the “golden snitch”, which in the film is a walnut-sized gold-coloured sphere with silver wings that flies around. In the real-life version, the snitch is a neutral player who has a tennis ball attached to the back of their pants with velcro.

While giving Potter his due for showing them how to play the game, Thomas Au Ying-yau, the University of Hong Kong Quidditch Club’s coach, would like people to forget the junior wizard and his flying broomstick, and focus instead on the game’s strategy and fitness aspects.

“Though quidditch might have roots in the world of Hogwarts, it’s quite a different matter in real life, where brooms don’t fly,” Au says.

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One feature that translated easily from fiction into reality is gender inclusiveness; women and men participate equally in the game.

“As a girl, playing against a lot of men in this sport makes me a stronger athlete,” Ananya Prasad, 19, says. Rebecca Wang, 20, shares that view, and says it’s not a problem playing a contact sport that is unisex.

“There is no ideal quidditch player, which is to say there isn’t a particular type of build or physique that is best suited to the sport,” Wang says.

Although it has taken North America and some Western European countries by storm since the mid-2000s, the game has yet to attract the same level of interest in Asia.

The University of Hong Kong Quidditch Club is the only one in the city. It started in 2016 with a few friends, including Chris Lau Kwun-shing, who enjoyed the game. They were joined by several experienced players who had returned to Hong Kong after studying in the United Kingdom.

The club got a break when it received HK$9,000 (US$1,150) in funding from the university in January. With some outside members joining, it was able to hold friendly matches with overseas teams and broaden its exposure. Still, members lament the inability to attract more players.

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“Asking your friends to join you in holding a pole between your legs as you run around chasing some balls might seem silly,” Lau admits. “People may respond with raised brows and funny looks, or even ridicule you.”

He says it can be difficult to separate reality from fantasy. Still, he wants people to see real-life quidditch as a serious sport in its own right.

For one thing it requires a lot of running back and forth from one end of the field to the other, Lau says. “You need to be very fit if you want to play at a high level, but if you’re just playing for fun, then no particular fitness level is required.”

Coach Au says the game is intense by its nature, but since unlimited substitutions are allowed, players can swap in and out for a breather every several minutes.

“Different teams have different playing styles,” Au says, and the added dynamic of limitless substitutions could shape a team’s tactics.

In June, the 21-member club sent six players to participate in the 2018 International Quidditch Association World Cup in Florence, Italy – the Hong Kong team’s debut in the global arena.

Despite ranking 25th out of 29 teams, Lau was proud of the team’s effort and the contribution from many new but passionate players. The team won two out of the six matches it played, with one of their wins, over Finland, streamed live.

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Lau hopes the team’s participation in an international tournament will raise awareness of the sport in Hong Kong and spark people’s interest in taking part.

If you fancy seeking, chasing or bludging, all while holding a stick between your legs, or would like to cheer on team players, visit http://hkquidditch.org/

Additional reporting by Alex Lin