Risk Management in Intramural Quidditch

February 25, 2014

Jack Butler, Director of Intramural Sports, Northeastern University
Ryan Garcia Townzen, Intramural Coordinator, University of Minnesota

In the pages of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Quidditch is a sport played by wizards and witches whizzing about on magical flying brooms. “Muggles” quidditch is a version of the game played without the aforementioned and impossible magical equipment. Since its invention, the sport has grown in popularity across the globe. The sport’s governing body, the International Quidditch Association (IQA), boasts that the sport is now played at “over 300 universities and high schools throughout North America, Australia, and Europe” (IQA, 2013). However, the majority of these schools only offer it as a club sport. This article examines the rule and policy changes that need to be made in order to offer a safe, yet fun version of intramural quidditch.

What makes club quidditch potentially too unsafe to offer as an intramural sport? To begin with the rules allow for players to tackle one another as a means of playing defense. There can also be full speed collisions between “chasers” and “keepers.” Another problem is that the “snitch” and the “seekers” area of play is technically unlimited and can be well out of the officials range of vision. But just as the traditional rules of football, hockey and soccer can be modified to create a safer playing environment, so can “club” quidditch be tamed enough to make it an intramural sport.
In bringing quidditch to Northeastern University, these modifications fell under three headings: (1) rules changes, (2) changes to the area of play and roles of each player position, and (3) revamping the IQA’s officiating system to meet the basic standards associated with an intramural sport.

(1) Rule changes
The first and most obvious step was to eliminate tackling entirely from the sport. This mirrors the change from traditional football to intramural flag football. Additionally, just as in flag football, a rule was created banning any attempts at stripping or punching the ball away from an opponent. In some instances the penalties for an IQA rule infraction were increased to create a further deterrent to a specified infraction. For example, rather than awarding merely a direct throw to the offended team, a two minute penalty was added for all fouls. This alteration combines familiar rules from soccer (free kick) and ice hockey (penalty minutes) to create safer game play for the intramural participants. Additionally, cards are used for fouls that are reckless or dangerous in nature.

Another risk that exists in IQA or club quidditch is the potential for full speed collisions between the chasers and the keeper. To eliminate this potential risk, a “keeper’s box” was created to separate the keeper from chasers. The keepers are forbidden from leaving their box and the offensive players cannot enter it. This rule discouraged keepers from attacking the chasers in one-on-one situations to cut off the attacker’s angle. The rule is very similar to the attacker and goalie rules implemented in team handball to avoid player collisions.

(2) Playing area and playing rules
The playing area for the snitch and both teams’ seekers ensures that players are always within the sight of the officials. In the IQA rules, these players can roam virtually anywhere, but at Northeastern those boundaries were shrunk down to the size of a regular intramural playing field. This ensured that all game play was adjudicated by an official, and that any potential injuries could be quickly attended to by an intramural staff member. In another tweak, the snitch runner is an intramural staff member. This ensures the snitch is impartial and allows the officials to concentrate on the other players.

(3) Revamping officiating
The final group of major changes that were made for safety purposes involved reworking the IQA’s approved officiating system. In the IQA mechanics, there is only one head referee who utilizes a whistle. While there are a number of assistant referees (such as goal referees, the bludger referee, and the snitch referee), none of the assistant referees use whistles. Rather, they give hand signals to the head official who makes the final decision regarding a foul, knockout, or goal. We felt that in order to regulate player contact better, all officials needed a whistle. This was meant to assist officials in controlling the game and player conduct and to give each official equal power and respect. Also, rather than giving each official specific duties as the IQA does, Northeastern assigns that the head referee follow the quaffle (main scoring ball) much like the center referee would in soccer. The additional four officials are designated as sideline officials. They split the field into quadrants, which allows double coverage on the quaffle at all times. This system was created to define set coverage areas to ensure that the entire playing area is covered.

The IQA rulebook presents a number of concerns for intramural programmers across the country. The beauty of running an intramural sports program is that you are allowed to modify any of a traditional sport’s existing rules in the name of participant safety. As a profession, we transition from tackles to flag belts; we penalize slide tackles and ban cleats. If a program does not have the facilities for a regulation field — the field of play is altered to what is available. The list goes on and on. This type of flexibility allowed us to take the version of quidditch played by the IQA and at the club level and transform it into a safe enough version to be offered as an intramural sport.

Practical Suggestions for Transitioning from Club to IM Quidditch

  • Goals can be put together using a soccer goal, hula hoops, and rope.
  • For brooms, broomball sticks or mini-lacrosse sticks can be used. If available, different colors or types should be used to designate teams.
  • Jerseys can be used to designate player positions. In the club version, bandanas are used, however, jerseys may be more readily available for intramural programs.
  • The snitch runner wears all gold and must be an impartial participant, such as a staff member. The snitch can be a tennis ball inside a tube sock. Or a flag belt can be used as well. Otherwise, snitch uniforms can be purchased at http://quiyk.com/.
  • A clear, designated playing area should be defined for the snitch runner and seekers, and they must be within sight of an official at all times.
  • For the quaffle, a deflated volleyball should be used such that players can hold the ball with one hand.
  • For bludgers, dodgeballs can be used.
  • Beaters cannot hinder their opponent’s ability to possess a bludger (dodgeball) by throwing it far from the playing field (like icing in hockey). Additionally, officials are given the jurisdiction to penalize beaters who unfairly prevent opponents from possessing at least one bludger.”
  • To aid officials, participants who dismount their brooms should raise one hand over their head while they tag up at their starting line.
  • Diving or sliding for a loose, grounded ball should be disallowed for additional safety, however, players may dive to catch a ball that has not hit the ground. Keepers in the box are exempt from this rule.
  • Officials have final jurisdiction to make rulings not addressed based on the spirit of the game.
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