By Kinga Robutka
In comparison to the 2014 IQA Global Games held in Burnaby, Canada, the 2016 World Cup expanded dramatically, with 21 teams competing in the tournament held in Frankfurt, Germany – a stark contrast to the seven teams of the previous event. Being invited to the tournament was a unique chance for smaller developing leagues from around the world to challenge themselves and have what remains their only chance to compete against such international powerhouses such as Team USA and Australia. However, a greater number of teams competing naturally results in greater diversity in the level of play across the tournament. To some commentators, this was one of the main drawbacks of the tournament as the stronger teams, presumably, felt less challenged, especially during the group stages of Day One.
In order to show the other side of the story, the Quidditch Post approached representatives of the three smallest European leagues: Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Team Poland took part in the European Games 2015 in Sarteano, Italy, but with a team of only seven players. For Slovakia and Slovenia, this World Cup was their national teams’ debut. The teams’ representatives focused on what they have learned during the World Cup and how taking part in the biggest international tournament to date will influence the immediate future of their respective leagues.
First up is Marian Dziubiak, chaser for Team Poland, who spoke about their games and what the team learned from playing at World Cup.
Last year, Team Poland went to the European Games in Sarteano. There were seven of us. We had never played together, and we lost every match. It was amazing we managed to get one goal. So we had prepared better this time and were able to put together a team of 19, all sharing a simple thought: “We will win at least one match.” Unfortunately, that did not happen. We fought well, and every team we played against saw that. However, our matches against Mexico and Canada did not go well. In the first match of the day we were a bit overwhelmed, and in the last one, against Canada, quite tired. Our best match was against Catalonia, where for the first half it was not certain who would win. Unfortunately, we had some injuries on the team that prevented us from giving our best throughout all of the matches. On the second day, we were a little sad we did not get a chance to play against a new team, as we instead played Catalonia again.
But after the World Cup, we have gathered a ton of experience that we can share with the Polish teams. We need to improve our speed and stamina, introduce some tactics, and definitely watch out for the ‘Troll in the Dungeon,’ which caused us a lot of conceded points. Next year, we are sure to practice more and send an even better team that will win at least one match.
Chaser and seeker from the Pressburg Phantoms, Martin Hofbauer, spoke about what the team attending World Cup resulted in back home, and why the money spent by the team in this way is a useful investment for developing regions.
I attended World Cup as a player for Team Slovakia, and it was a tremendous experience – meeting all the players I had seen only on videos or read about on the Quidditch Post, getting to talk with them, having Dropbears captain James Mortensen talk to me and the rest of my team for about an hour after our game on Day One on how to improve our gameplay and training regime, seeing the best players from each country playing against each other. These are just a few of the things I took from this weekend.
Attending World Cup did not just help me as an individual; it helped the whole Slovak quidditch community. Are you asking why? For the year we’ve been playing quidditch in Slovakia, we’ve had a lot of trouble connecting with the media. One tabloid we reached out to wrote an article but never published it. One TV programme we reached out to responded to our email saying they would like to deal with us, but never responded to our emails. But after the World Cup? Two of the biggest Slovak newspapers reached out to us, and two articles were published this Saturday. People start to get to know quidditch and acknowledge it as a sport. This is something we tried to achieve for a year, and we were not quite successful. But after the World Cup? People I know from old times and whom I met once or twice in my life are contacting me via Facebook to get to know what quidditch is and how it works and so on. And this is something we would have never achieved if we did not attend World Cup.
Some people say that it is not really worth paying a great amount of money to go to Frankfurt and play at World Cup, and that we should have used this money on promoting quidditch through other ways. There are a lot of reasons why this would not work, and so it is good that smaller and new teams went to Frankfurt. Why? First, people would not spend such an amount of money on something they would not get anything from. Spreading awareness of quidditch in Slovakia is a fine idea, but what is my personal benefit from it? Why should I give money to something that only a few people take seriously and getting new players who I have to teach and not getting to learn anything from them? I know this sounds really selfish, but think about it. Wouldn’t you do the same thing? There is no way I would have spent €200 on promoting quidditch without any personal benefit from it.
Also, if you want to teach people how to play quidditch, you should have as much experience as you possibly can. And how do you achieve that? You have to go play other people. Before World Cup, I had played only three matches against teams other than my own. I cannot say this was worthless, but it did not give me as much as attending World Cup did for all the reasons I mentioned above. This is the main reason why attending World Cup gave so much to Slovakia, and I believe that it did the same for all the other new and smaller teams, such as South Korea and Slovenia. The point I am trying to make is that the sport would not get promoted as much and players would not gain as much skill trying to promote it by using money spent on World Cup in other ways. They would not know what the quidditch community feels like. They would not get as much as they did. That is why going to the World Cup gave them as much as it did.
And finally, we approached two members of Team Slovenia, Verena Deutsch and Borut Bezgovšek. They spoke about the excitement of playing against a variety of different opponents, and the benefit of making contacts around the world.
Hello, world! We are the tiny country of Slovenia, recently adopted into the quidditch universe. We started in October last year, which makes us one of the youngest countries at this year’s World Cup. When we were applying, we did not even know what we were getting ourselves into. It seemed quite overwhelming, and with our inexperience we were not sure what we would even be doing there. But just the thrill of being considered, and then later accepted, motivated us to progress. Despite being quite isolated on the quidditch map, we took every chance we could for friendly matches, and the helping hands of neighbouring Italy and in particular Austria got us a leg-up in strategies and physicality of competitive play. We learned quite a bit in the weeks leading up to World Cup. However, we still had a small roster of 13 players, some of whom had attended very few trainings.
Coming to Frankfurt, we knew that we would be playing against countries that were way above our level, others against which we might dare to put up a fight, and maybe a few against which we might stand a chance. We knew that from match to match, we would have to adjust our aims and expectations accordingly, and we were excited for the different kinds of experiences. In our matches against France and the UK, we expected to be and were completely smashed in points, but not demoralized. We were happy we got the chance to play against top teams like that and survive without injuries. Facing teams like Italy and Germany, we went in with the mindset of giving them a hard time. And we are proud to say that although they decisively won those games, in certain areas and periods of the matches, we were on par. This really encourages us to improve to get closer. A special case was the tight match against our dear Austrian neighbours, which allowed us to trace our development. Lastly there were teams like the Netherlands, Ireland, and Brazil, against which we thought we would have a chance to win and therefore played with that goal in mind.
We are really happy that we were able to play so many matches against such a variety of opponents ― top European teams and teams more on our level, close-by teams, and teams that we might have never met and never played against otherwise. We were really excited to attend, to measure, and prove ourselves. Also invaluable are all the contacts we made, finally putting faces onto the Facebook names and in turn getting known by the rest of the quidditch community as well. Concluding our very first season with such a huge event like World Cup is probably the best thing that could have happened to us, and we are grateful for the encouragement we got through it.
Team Poland lost all of their matches during the tournament, but Team Slovakia won against Ireland on the first day, and Team Slovenia won against the Netherlands in pool play and against Team Ireland in the play-in games on Sunday, earning themselves a well-deserved place in the consolation bracket. Still, all teams interviewed highlighted similar issues: struggles with media coverage, lack of international exposure, and taking part in tournaments such as the World Cup as one of the only means to expand quidditch in their leagues. No matter how small those teams may seem against the power players of the quidditch world, these developing leagues are clearly a valuable addition to international tournaments, and international tournaments a valuable opportunity for them.
Marian Dziubiak (Poland), Martin “Hofi” Hofbauer (Slovakia); and Verena Deutsch and Borut Bezgovšek (Slovenia) contributed reporting