Aussies set sights on `Quidditch` world cup
Melbourne: Australians, renowned for their sporting prowess in cricket and rugby, now want to win a world cup for running around on broomsticks -- otherwise known as Quidditch.
In J.K Rowling`s hugely successful Harry Potter books and films, Quidditch is a semi-contact sport played by wizards and witches -- as popular in their world as football or cricket is in real life.
The final installment of the series hits movie screens in July, but the crowd-pulling sport of Quidditch has only just arrived in Australia.
"Four universities in Australia launched Muggle Quidditch teams this year," said Justin Chau, who founded the Quidditch Society at the University of New South Wales.
"On my campus it kicked off immediately with over 200 people joining in."
The rules of Muggle Quidditch -- or Ground Quidditch -- mirror the game invented by Rowling, which is played on flying broomsticks.
Three Chasers have to score through three hoops patrolled by a Keeper, with their task made harder by Bludgers -- flying balls that attempt to knock over the players.
Each team has two Beaters whose role is to knock the Bludgers off towards opponents. The game does not end until the Seeker captures the Snitch, a walnut-size ball that hovers and darts around the field.
In the absence of flying broomsticks, Muggle Quidditch has been adapted to the law of gravity.
"Players have to run with a broom between their legs, avoiding the Bludgers that are thrown by the Beaters,` explains Chau.
"Unlike the real game, the Snitch is actually a person because obviously we don`t have balls that fly around."
The sport has become popular in the United States, where it originated at Middlebury College in Vermont.
With the success of a Quidditch World Cup last November in New York, the International Quidditch Association was formed, and it now has teams from some 200 colleges.
Buoyed by the success of the US initiative, Australians are now trying to build up enough teams to create a national league.
"I heard about the World Cup and I thought it would be pretty awesome if we could have some sort of tournament going on in Australia," said Chau.
"We are not yet at a stage where we could take part in the World Cup. For now, we just want to build up a domestic competition."
Students from the four Australian universities where Quidditch is currently played are readying their brooms with the season expected to kick off once exams are over at the end of June.
"I believe Muggle Quidditch is going to catch on. The generation which is entering universities now is the Harry Potter generation," said Chau.
Even though the bulk of Quidditch players are hardcore Potter fans who turn out wearing capes and holding wands, there are also people who just enjoy the idea of a different sport.
"Basically, Quidditch is a mixture between dodgeball and European handball," said Mitchell Waters, who runs the team at the University of Western Sydney.
"It`s an exciting game. The Human Snitch gives an element of suspense and surprise. I have heard stories of Seekers swimming across a lake to chase the Snitch," Chau added.
With the prospect of flying to New York to win the World Cup still remote, Australian players are turning their eyes toward New Zealand, where Muggle Quidditch is also becoming popular.
"A tournament between Australia and New Zealand could possibly be on the cards in the years to come as Quidditch becomes more and more popular," according to Hugo Will, director of New Zealand Quidditch.
He, like Chau, has bigger ambitions.
"My ultimate goal for New Zealand Quidditch in the next couple of years would be to get a team to the World Cup. I think that this could be exciting and a great opportunity to foster Quidditch in New Zealand," he said.
In the meantime, Chasers, Beaters, Keepers and Seekers are preparing for the release of the epic finale of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which opens in Sydney on July 13.