By Richard Turkowitsch
UK Quidditch has been top-to-bottom the best NGB in European quidditch since the beginning of international play. There are probably very few people who would deny this. At European Quidditch Cup (EQC) 2016, eight out of 40 teams were British, and seven of them finished in the top 16. At EQC 2017, six out of 32 teams were British and three of those reached the quarterfinals. So Quidditch Europe’s decision to hard-cap the spots per NGB to four naturally created a lot of negative emotions in the UK, especially since the announcement was accompanied by a spreadsheet showing the math behind the spot distribution leading to 7.079 spots for the UK while smaller countries like Austria, Ireland and Slovakia mathematically only “deserved” 0.163 spots, something that the people of Quidditch Europe might be regretting ever since.
The anger is undoubtedly understandable. Very few people would argue that Slovakia’s premier team is better at the sport than the fifth best team from the UK ― although you should never underestimate the Pressburg Phantoms, as the Vienna Vanguards will undoubtedly tell you. The bigger question, though, is what matters more: making sure the best teams compete against each other, or making sure that the tournament encapsulates as much as possible of European quidditch? Many comparisons are drawn to how things are done in the Champions League, so it might be interesting to examine European football’s premier club competition a bit further.
The Champions League was created in 1992 to expand on international football gameplay not for sporting reasons but to expand on the club version of the sport’s marketability. Bigger clubs like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, A.C. Milan, and the like simply found it beneath them to have to travel to Odense, Nicosia, or Bruges to play a lowly team and risk being knocked out of the competition in a freak game, costing them further revenue opportunities. The Champion’s Cup, its predecessor, had no patience for concerns like this. You wanted to play internationally? Well, then, you had to win your league.
Before the Champions League became the worldwide powerhouse it is now, every other sport in Europe had their own version of the Champion’s Cup that pitted every nation’s champions against each other. The massive success of the Champions League made smaller sports rush to change the formats of their own events in hopes of earning a bigger piece of the live television sports pie: the International Ice Hockey Federation’s European Cup gave way to a multitude of competing pan-national ice hockey competitions in 1997, the International Basketball Federation’s Champions Cup became EuroLeague Basketball in 2000, and the European Handball Federation’s European Cup became the EHF Champions League in 1993. Most of those leagues became success stories and, yes, they all saw closer game play and a better representation of the most skilled players and the best teams.
But we should not kid ourselves for one second: None of those decisions were based on developing the sports; the decisions were based on profit.
Obviously profit is not a driving force in quidditch worldwide, since almost no one is making money here. And again, the argument for “better quidditch” is an understandable one, especially since the numbers clearly show that the UK should have additional spots instead of lowly Czechia, Austria, or Ireland.
Quidditch on a ground level is vastly different in countries like Czechia. I had the pleasure and fortune of seeing the first friendly game of quidditch ever played in the country between Prague Pegasus and United Unicorns. The quality of gameplay was what was to be expected ― two new teams struggling to put onto the pitch what the coach (Germany’s own Nadine Cyrannek) had explained to them ― but it was quidditch and there was a remarkable level of enthusiasm and excitement to it. One of those players for Pegasus was Michael Škácha, and I had the fortune of seeing his talents grow through several friendly tournaments since then and during EQC 2017 in Mechelen where Pegasus played as a representative for the “emerging areas”. Being able to play EQC was decidedly a big part of Škácha’s improvement. The chance to talk with experienced players, get advice, and soak in the atmosphere of top-level quidditch is the best thing you can give to inexperienced players, especially those who will continue to build the sport in their home countries with an extra ounce of motivation. Every smaller country playing at EQC has that ripple effect, as can be seen in the steady improvement of Polish or Slovenian quidditch.
A big problem in quidditch is that many people come to the sport having played a multitude of other sports previously, but very few have been actively watching smaller, less-developed sports. Football? Of course. Maybe also basketball, rugby, or American football. But not sports on a similar development level of quidditch. So quite frankly, judging the relations can sometimes seem a bit off. Football exists in every country in Europe, and the only way for it to grow is by competing with other entertainment products. Our sport is still very much in its infancy. It currently exists in more than 20 European countries, and even in that number there is a lot of room still to grow. We need to consider our priorities – which should include developing the sport around the continent, not just to focussing on showcasing the best teams as football leagues do.
Were the spots allocated correctly? I am not entirely sure myself. However, I respect and support the decision to not lock anyone out. I believe that looking back five years from now, the inclusion of smaller countries will have helped with the growth of the sport, and the level of competition in Europe, more than the inclusion of another team from a more developed country.