Swedes drop sticks for Quidditch cup

In the wake of the cinema release of the final instalment of the Harry Potter films, Hogwarts devotees are gearing up to clash their imaginary broomsticks at the Swedish National Quidditch Cup which begins on Friday.

Swedes drop sticks for Quidditch cup
Photo: Archive picture from the Quidditch World Cup 2010

Are you a Chaser, Beater, Keeper or Seeker? If you recognize these positions and the sport they entail, you’re in the right place. And not to worry, flying skills are not required.

Athletes from across the nation are busy fine tuning their skills before descending on the Stockholm suburb of Huddinge from August 12th-14th to dodge Quaffles and Bludgers and catch the all-elusive Snitch in a series of games brought to life from the pages of British author J.K. Rowling’s celebrated Harry Potter books.

Students Miran Fisli, 20, Erik Fahlén, 21, and Li Hjalmarsson, 22, are proud to have called themselves Harry Potter fans for at least 10 years, and this passion was what influenced them to arrange this year’s Swedish Quidditch Cup when last year’s organizers failed to do so.

“We started out talking with different municipalities around Stockholm to see if anyone was interested in helping us, until we got a good response (from Visättra Sportcenter in Huddinge). The people there have been really helpful and almost as enthusiastic as us at times about this unique sports arrangement!” Erik tells The Local.

This year’s tournament will feature one Danish team among a total of seven, and any number of spectators from the wizarding world.

Erik explains that the competition is a relatively new object of fascination in Sweden, being held only once before in 2010.

“Last year it was not quite as serious, as we were not at a real sports centre, but simply at a public lawn,” he clarifies.

The Swedes are late to the fantasy banquet however, as American students have been charmed by the sport since 2005, starting at Middlebury College in Vermont.

The lure of their enchanting real-life adaption has escalated to give rise to the Quidditch World Cup, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this November. Definitely not at a public lawn, 100 teams will this year bring their brooms to Randall’s Island in New York City.

As any sport with such dedicated participation deserves, Quidditch has its own executive leadership – the International Quidditch Association (IQA), a self-described “magical non-profit dedicated to inspiring young people to lead physically active and socially engaged lives.”

The IQA is the body which decides the rules by which Swedish players base their game play on, though there is one major difference: those legendary wooden tools between your legs – Swedes prefer to leave them in the cleaning cupboard.

“We think it looks silly! We have been playing Quidditch since before we were aware of its existence in the US, and we never used brooms. It’s probably easier to get hurt with the brooms, so we choose not to use them,” Erik laughs.

Though all of this is somehow beginning to sound legitimate, how does one actually play a magical game without magic? The absence of magic in our world (or so us “Muggles” have been led to believe) has forced Quidditch enthusiasts to make do with real-life equivalents.

Among the candidates for the most curious of these adaptations must be the role of a yellow-clad person, with a tennis ball-containing sock hanging out of his or her shorts, in place of the series’ winged golden ball known as “The Snitch”.

Similarly instead of being knocked out during a game, which can be called a regular occurrence in true Harry Potter matches, players in the Swedish National Cup are subject to the “knock-out effect,” where if having been hit by a Bludger (a soft ball instead of a large iron one) they must high-five a team member on the bench to continue.

The tournament is set to close with a “Wizard Rock” concert on August 13th and an accompanying EP release featuring original Quidditch-themed songs, one of which is in English this year, with all proceeds go to charity.

Spellbound? The tournament is free to attend and Wizard Rock tickets are only 30 kronor ($5), so it won’t cost you much to witness the weird and wonderful that characterizes this one of a kind sport.

Caroline Bursell

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Could Scandinavian countries lead the way in taking stand against Qatar World Cup?

Vehemently opposed to Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup, football federations in the Nordic countries are putting pressure on Doha and FIFA to improve conditions for migrant workers in the emirate.

Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event.
Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Together with rights organisation Amnesty International, the federations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland have ratcheted up the pressure in recent months, raising their concerns and presenting recommendations in letters, meetings with officials and pre-game protests.

“We are against holding the World Cup in Qatar, we thought it was a bad decision,” the head of the Danish federation DBU, Jakob Jensen, told AFP.

“It is wrong in many ways. Because of the human rights situation, the environment, building new stadiums in a country with very little stadium capacity,” he said.

Denmark is the only Nordic country to have qualified for the tournament so far. Sweden face a playoff next year to secure a place and Norway, Finland and Iceland have been eliminated.

Leading the charge, the Danish federation regularly publishes the Nordic countries’ letters sent to FIFA and holds talks with Qatari officials, including an October meeting with Qatar head organiser Hassan Al-Thawadi.

The main concern is migrant workers’ rights.

Qatar has faced criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, many of whom are involved in the construction of the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure.

Campaigners accuse employers of exploitation and forcing labourers to work in dangerous conditions.

Qatari authorities meanwhile insist they have done more than any country in the region to improve worker welfare, and reject international media reports about thousands of workers’ deaths.

The Nordics have also raised other concerns with al-Thawadi, Jensen said.

“Will homosexuals be allowed to attend the World Cup? Will men and women be able to attend the matches together? Will the press have free access to all sorts of issues to do investigations in the country?”

“And all the answers we received were ‘yes’. So of course we’re going to hold him responsible for that,” Jensen said.

The Danish federation said its World Cup participation would focus on the games played on the pitch, and it will not do anything to promote the event for organisers.

It will limit the number of trips it makes to Qatar, the team’s commercial partners will not take part in official activities there, and its two jersey sponsors will allow training kit to carry critical messages.

In Norway, whose qualification bid fell apart when its best player Erling Braut Haaland missed games through injury, the issue culminated in June when its federation held a vote on whether to boycott the World Cup.

READ ALSO: Norway’s economic police call for boycott of Qatar World Cup

Delegates ultimately voted against the idea, but an expert committee recommended 26 measures, including the creation of a resource centre for migrant workers and an alert system to detect human rights violations and inform the international community.

Like other teams, Norway’s squad also protested before each match by wearing jerseys or holding banners like the one unfurled during a recent match against Turkey, reading “Fair play for migrant workers”.

But the Nordic countries have not always acted in line with their own campaign.

Last month at a Copenhagen stadium, a Danish fan was ordered to take down his banner criticising the World Cup in Qatar, as FIFA rules prohibit political statements.

And Sweden’s federation recently scratched plans to hold its winter training camp in the emirate as it has done the past two years.

Sweden’s professional clubs had protested against the hypocrisy of holding the camp there while at the same the federation was leading the protests with Nordic counterparts.

The professional clubs wanted to send a “signal”, the chairman of Swedish Professional Football Leagues, Jens Andersson, told AFP.

Individual players have also spoken out. 

Finland’s captain Tim Sparv last week issued a joint appeal with Amnesty demanding that “FIFA must ensure that human rights are respected”, adding: “We are in debt to those people who have worked for years in poor conditions.”

So far, none of FIFA’s 200 other member federations have joined the Nordic campaign.

“Hopefully all these Nordic neighbours of ours and us taking these steps will have an impact on other countries,” Mats Enquist, secretary general of the Swedish Professional Football League, told AFP.

“We need to ensure that all the aspects of football, not just the richest, are really taken care of when we come to a place.”