By Emma Whitney
A bit over two weeks have passed by already, and the dust has more or less settled on World Cup 2018. Yes, the end result was not the shocker of 2016, with Redeem Team achieving their objective, dispatching Australia and Team UK with aplomb on their way to the final. Despite the lack of another upset, there’s a lot to take from the fourth iteration of quidditch’s most prestigious tournament. As sights already begin to look towards 2020, one thing stands out from Florence 2018, and the World Cup tournaments as a whole. With signs that USNQT’s dominant game play is slowly being matched, and impressive turnouts from Spain, Italy, Turkey, and Belgium, could 2020 finally be the year a European quidditch team is crowned world champions?
A generous draw helped greatly, of course, but few would have expected pre-World Cup – or post-Day One, even – that Belgium and Turkey would finish above Team UK. The emergence of new European quidditch powers to rival the old guard of Western Europe is something to relish, and a sign that the game is developing well in the continent. The fact that 11 out of 16 upper bracket teams were European – almost 70% – should come as no surprise, seeing as Europe provided the whole tournament with 19 of its 29 teams (65.5%, or almost two–thirds, showing that it punched a little above its weight in getting perhaps an extra team or two into that top bracket). Nevertheless, such Euro-representation was always to be expected. Given the general levels of infrastructure and support for quidditch in Europe, and, crucially, the relative ease of travelling around and between countries, whether for domestic or international competitions, the fact that a European nation has not been crowned world quidditch champs yet is puzzling. Belgium and Turkey should feel especially buoyed by their showings in Florence, whereas sides like the UK, France, and Germany will be left rueing how a thriving domestic scene and a strong 2018 training plan ultimately left them empty-handed. In addition to this, exciting upcoming developments within the domestic game should enhance European quidditch even further. If the NGBs and national teams start focusing on 2020 now, and take advantage of these new developments, European quidditch will surely have its best chance yet of beating its Antipodean and American cousins on the greatest stage of all.
One existing reason that the future of European quidditch looks so healthy is the amount of European players who play their domestic trade in a different country. Our sport is by nature pretty global in attitude and outlook, but in Europe, this crossover of players is quietly creating something. Whether it’s down to university life and studying abroad, travelling or living in different nations (thanks Schengen), or simply multicultural melting pots like London, the benefits are starting to seep through. Nascent teams like Finland are helped to get off the ground in a way that is both professional and competitive, hopefully engendering a growth of the game back in the home country itself. More established teams like Spain and the UK also benefit, in terms of players encountering different ideas, tactics, and styles of play, and, of course, being domiciled in certain countries. Quidditch has grown exponentially across the continent in recent years, and there is every reason to believe a surge in university teams and community interest should continue, despite UK concerns, for example, that the graduation cycle will leave formerly successful university teams in difficult positions going forward.
Perhaps it is worth examining Team UK’s World Cup in detail here. The Brits will be bitterly disappointed with their showing, given their hard work over the past two years, their high standards of play, and the fact that they entered the tournament as European champions. To finish a place lower than they did in Frankfurt was not in the script. Given the growth of the UK domestic game, you would have been in good company if you had backed Team UK to make the final this time around, or even (whisper it) go one stage further. An unkind draw pitted the UK against the US in the semifinals, however, and that was that. Team UK could not cope with the US’s driving quaffle play or excellent beater game, resorting to slowballing instead of offering the creative, exciting passing we know they are capable of. Struggling in a similar fashion against an ebullient Turkey (whose disallowed goal in the third place play-off is surely the best disallowed quidditch goal ever), it is very much back to the drawing board for Team UK. Given the thriving quidditch scene in the UK (almost 40 active clubs, many of which have more than one team, plus the addition of extra community teams for the 2018–19 season), the fact that this has not yet translated to the greatest prize on the international stage is frustrating. Upcoming developments in European quidditch offer a chance for the likes of Team UK, France, and Germany to regroup and reanalyse, the likes of Italy and Spain to continue to push higher, and teams such as Belgium and Turkey to build on their impressive achievements.
Those upcoming European quidditch developments will both hit next season. 2018–19’s European Quidditch Cup (EQC) will have two divisions for the first time ever, whilst the Quidditch Premier League will expand into the continent, with five new mainland teams for 2019, in additional to the ten regional UK teams. By World Cup 2020, 64 European club teams will be playing international quidditch across EQC Divisions 1 and 2, which will allow for a lot of players to get both big tournament and big game experience. Concerns around the development of quidditch in Eastern Europe have been raised, with EQC Division 2 worrying some – it is currently set to be held in Eastern Europe, but questions have been asked about volunteers not having the chance to learn from their more experienced counterparts (in this hypothetical situation it is assumed experienced volunteers will only officiate Division 1 matches). If the general growth of the sport over the last five years in Europe is anything to go by, however, an organic development in the eastern half of the continent should be on the horizon. Widening the opportunity to play high-level international quidditch can only be applauded, and it will be interesting to see how a smaller EQC Division 2 (only 16 teams) fares in 2018–19.
Though not without its critics, the Quidditch Premier League has transformed the potential of quidditch in the UK, not least in terms of marketability and raising awareness – all important for encouraging new blood. Allowing elite players the chance to play at a more concentrated and competitive professional level has so many benefits; college players have further incentives to stay in the game after graduation, whilst newbies to the sport are impressed, hopefully, by the ambition on show. The 2019 expansion into continental Europe is crucial; competitiveness will be improved even further, allowing a wider net of players – and countries – to take advantage of the high-level quidditch QPL has to offer. It is important to remember that, as well as the game itself being established in the US for much longer, Major League Quidditch has a two–year head start on QPL. Given the success of MLQ, it is exciting to imagine how the expansion of both QPL and EQC can give European quidditch a further boost, especially as players compete for different teams in both competitions, therefore having wider chances to learn and experiment with new tactics and styles of play.
The USNQT were still the best team on show in Florence, though Belgium’s spirited performance in the final shows that the US are not completely infallible. Losing to Australia in Frankfurt was the motivation the USNQT needed to stay ahead of the rest of the world, continue developing (particularly in terms of beater play), and focus on regaining their title. European teams, the UK in particular, could learn from this single-mindedness. Taking advantage of the opportunities the new-look EQC and QPL will offer is crucial; less-well known players will shine, and should not be ignored by national teams, plus every player and coach involved will come across new tactics and situations that will only help when it comes to big game experience and management. Despite winning the European Games in 2017, Team UK could not better their previous performance on the world stage. Each big European quidditch nation – and Turkey and Belgium now find themselves in that category – should be looking to the European Games of 2019 as the rehearsal for 2020. Given the domestic growth and health of European quidditch, national European teams should be looking to win the next World Cup. That world order might just be shifting.