If you’ve ever walked by lower field on a Saturday afternoon, you’ve likely seen a group of people adorned in red, running with brooms between their legs. This particular spectacle is brought to you by McGill’s Muggle Quidditch Team, a group who play a sport similar to the one described in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. The game, barring some slight modifications to account for the players’ lack of magical abilities, follows the same rules as Rowling’s fictional version and requires the same athleticism and skill. Although the team itself is a SSMU club, Quidditch is considered a very real sport by players and fans. The sport has its own governing body, the International Quidditch Association (IQA), that oversees hundreds of teams around the globe and organizes various tournaments, including the Quidditch World Cup, an international tournament attended by dozens of teams.
Four Canadian universities currently host active Quidditch teams: McGill, Ryerson, the University of Toronto, and Carleton. Competition between these teams is fierce, yet McGill, 18th in the overall IQA standings, outranks the others by far. The IQA, sensing increased interest in Quidditch in Canada, wished to sponsor a tournament held north of the border after witnessing a strong showing by the four Canadian teams at the 2010 Quidditch World Cup in New York City. McGill’s team stepped up to the plate, announcing that the Canadian Quidditch Cup would be held on McGill’s campus on October 22, 2011.
“McGill…was the logical choice [to host the tournament],” explained Jonathan Cohen, coach of the McGill Quidditch team. “We had been around the longest, we were at the second World Cup three years ago, and we were, frankly, the best Canadian team at the cup.” McGill finished 12th out of 46 teams at the 2010 World Cup, outperforming all of their Canadian counterparts. The team started to make arrangements for the tournament in late May, but, by the middle of August, it was apparent that it would be impossible to host a tournament in Montreal.
Shortly after the team began to plan the event, problems arose. The team easily booked fields for the weekend of the proposed tournament, but, shortly thereafter, things became more difficult. “Insurance, in terms of getting it on [lower] field was the biggest problem because none of the insurance companies really know what Quidditch is… It’s not something they want to get involved in, I guess,” said Laura Diebold, one of the Quidditch team members involved in organizing the event. “The only company that we were able to get a quote from had a sports exemption clause,” she continued.
Quidditch is a full contact sport, and players are subject to certain risks uniquely affiliated with the sport, making the acquiring of insurance very difficult. Reid Robinson, President of the McGill Quidditch Team, chimed in, explaining, “The only stopping point in the event was with the McGill Risk Management Office. We were told that we were going to need to have an insurance policy if we wanted to have the event, due to the nature of the sport. We received one insurance policy but it included a ‘sports participation exemption’ and was rendered not suitable for our event.” Neither the team nor McGill’s Outdoor Events Office, which oversees all requests for events of this nature and directs applications to all the necessary organizations at McGill for approval, would host such a risky event without having proper insurance in place.
Insurance wasn’t the only obstacle preventing the tournament from occurring. “We need to have a lot of facilities that we need to get together. For instance, getting restrooms was a problem because they weren’t going to allow us access to the ones [on campus],” continued Diebold. The team was also having a problem finding accommodations for the eight to ten teams they were expecting to attend. “Unlike Middlebury, where we stayed for the World Cup two years ago, McGill residences doesn’t…have a way to let people stay… It’s different for an urban university,” said Cohen. McGill residences are filled to capacity every year, and the school doesn’t have space to offer hotel accommodations during the school year. The team felt that finding accommodations for the 200 or so players who were expected to attend was a challenge they could overcome, but their efforts were brought to a halt by insurance issues before this could even arise as a real problem.
Cost was another issue for the team. The Quidditch Club, while one of the more popular clubs on campus, doesn’t charge membership fees. “Our primary funding is samosa sales,” Diebold explained. “We don’t have enough money to pay a couple hundred dollars for security guards and port-a-potties, not to mention chairs and delivery and the construction crew,” Cohen added. The club estimated the total cost of the event to be around $4000. To help with the costs, they had planned to apply to the Campus Life Fund, as well as to the Green Fund, to offset a large portion of their costs.
McGill’s Outdoor Events Office expected the team to cover costs for the entire event, but the team didn’t get far enough with their plans to even construct a full budget. The Outdoor Events Office also required that the team meet a number of requirements if they were to host a tournament on campus. “There were a lot of qualifications,” Cohen said. “If we were going to host it we would need X number of chairs, hire X number of security guards, use X number of port-a-potties… It seemed like every step closer we got, it was like two steps back. There were more things lying in the framework that we needed to do.”
Despite all of the organizational issues, the team had grand designs and expectations for the tournament. “We get hundreds of spectators on a Saturday afternoon at two o’clock when it’s just our team playing. I couldn’t imagine if we had two hundred people here, with music and referees and broadcasters that we could have had,” said Cohen. However, they didn’t intend to limit the event to the McGill community. “I know that tons of people from the city would have come out. You can’t just pass by a bunch of people running around on broomsticks and be like ‘Oh, I’m just going to walk right by that!’ I think we could have had a really big crowd,” said Diebold. Cohen added, “This would have been an event that would have been really great for the University, really great for the University’s image and publicity, and really positive just for clubs in general on campus.”
After McGill’s Outdoor Events Office turned them down, the team turned their attention elsewhere, and made attempts to host the Canadian Cup off-campus. Unfortunately, booking fields with the City of Montreal turned out to be a greater challenge than booking space at McGill. “Once we failed with the school we tried to go to the city and they just weren’t much of a help,” Diebold explained. Robinson added, “We spoke with the city of Montreal about using the ‘reservoir’ (actually called Rutherford Park), but I believe they said the field is slanted, and thus it would be unsafe to play on. We were a bit perplexed by that.” The team, facing a looming deadline to report back to the IQA and still lacking a venue, were forced to call the tournament off. Hosting duties were quickly transferred to Carleton University in Ottawa, where the Canadian Quidditch Cup is currently scheduled for October 29th. Carleton’s team was able to make arrangements for the tournament quickly, and the original date was pushed back by only one week.
The McGill Quidditch Team, although suffering from funding restrictions, is taking this loss in stride and still intends to participate in the Canadian Quidditch Cup. “I’m glad that there is a Canadian Cup being hosted, and it’s really amazing that Carleton was able to take it up so quickly, from the middle of August,” said Cohen.
However, the team is still disappointed over the fact that, as Canada’s top team, they were not able to host the tournament. Diebold laments, “We would have rather had [the tournament] here… I think we have more to offer than Carleton does. We have the city of Montreal, and that would have been a lot of fun.”
When asked if McGill Quidditch would attempt to host the Canadian Quidditch Cup in future years, Diebold expressed enthusiasm and said, “Maybe we’ve learned a few things, maybe we can figure something out differently… It’s a possibility.”
Cohen remains optimistic. He asserted, “assuming the Canadian Cup happens again, I want it… I want to host it and I want to win it and I want to hold up the trophy on lower field, hoisted aloft by our team.”