Have you ever stumbled across a group of people on sticks throwing a few balls at each other and through a few hula-hoops mounted on makeshift stands? If so, you may have encountered one of the hundreds of quidditch teams around the world either practicing or playing the sport. In 2005, quidditch, a full contact mixed gender sport based off the fictional sport played in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, came into fruition. A USA Today post comments on how the sport has been growing in popularity with over 20 governing bodies representing hundreds of teams worldwide, especially through the International Quidditch Association (IQA). As a past player for Team Canada Quidditch, as well as a player for US Quidditch (USQ) and Canada Quidditch teams, I have noticed how the quidditch community boasts being the first full contact mixed gender sport that includes people regardless of their self-identification. One part of the IQA’s mission is to “improve gender education across all sports and communities, [and] promote equality and diversity” (International Quidditch Association: Mission, Activities, History, 2016, para. 1). As Cunningham (2015) notes, despite recent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and others’ (LGBTQ+) advances towards inclusion in the community, prejudice against them is still perpetuated, especially through sports. Due to quidditch’s goal of reaching equality, the sport resists dominant gender norms by constructing one of gender inclusivity.
Sports culture has not yet reached a point where sports are inclusive towards all genders. An Outsports blog post highlights how 80% of the 9,500 LGBTQ+ athletes in a recent study claimed to have witnessed or experienced homophobic actions in their respective sports. The author also pointed out how nearly half of gay men and a third of lesbians did not come out due to fear of rejection, and how a 31% of gay men and 15% of lesbians worried about discrimination from coaches and officials. As can be seen, LGBTQ+ athletes still face prejudice today and have to worry about negative public perception alongside performing at a high level. What leads to their rejection and discrimination stems from people viewing them as ‘other’, or irregular from the public opinion of what is normal. Kitzinger (2005) recognizes this social problem as heterosexism, where the normalization of heterosexuality and presumptions that other form of attraction is deviant lead to discrimination. When society prejudices the LGBTQ+ community, promoting inclusivity and equality from grassroots levels can be quite difficult. Despite being derived from a fictional novel and having no resources to start up, quidditch is constantly gaining notoriety as a community and environment which encourages gender inclusivity and equality. However, current sports forms and their respective environments do not all support this notion.
Segrave (2015) points out how dominant sport forms separate men and women; therefore reproducing an ideology of hegemonic masculinity, where men are legitimized in a dominant position of society, and the marginalization of female as well as LGBTQ+ communities. One can argue many professional sports leagues support this notion; for example, the National Hockey League (NHL) features only male players since 1917, whereas the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) features only female players and was just established in 2015. In 2014, the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport highlighted how women’s sports only get 4% of all sport media coverage and how female athletes are more likely to be sexually portrayed than their male counterparts (para. 1). By placing male athletes on a pedestal, everyone else gets disenfranchised with little to no attention. Being a mixed gender sport, quidditch not only brings together male and female athletes, but also any other athlete who may identify outside of this binary. The 2016-2018 edition of the IQA rulebook’s ‘four maximum’ rule under section 1.5 states:
A quidditch game allows each team to have a maximum of four players, including the seeker once released, who identify as the same gender in active play on the field at the same time. The gender that a player identifies with is considered to be that player’s gender, which may or may not correspond with that person’s sex. This is commonly referred to as the “four maximum” rule. The IQA accepts those who don’t identify within the binary gender system and acknowledges that not all of our players identify as male or female. The IQA welcomes people of all identities and genders into our sport. (p. 12)
This rule acknowledges how gender is performative and may not correspond with one’s sex. By thoroughly distinguishing this difference and by explicitly including people regardless of their identification, quidditch is providing an environment that cultivates inclusivity for all identities. A Huffington Post article notes how teams must be conscious about discrimination while recruiting players, especially those outside of the gender binary. While quidditch is supporting the LGBTQ+ community by being safe space and has subsequently taken a step in promoting gender equality, the ideal still has a long way to go before gaining public acceptance.
Only recently have people started to accept athletes coming out as opposed to shunning them for who they are. Both King’s (2009) analysis of Sheryl Swoopes and Billings, Rae, and Brown-Devlin’s analysis of Jason Collins (2015) outline a positive response from the public and media of their respective decisions to come out to the public. However, both analyses emphasize how the media framed theirs and others’ coming out through dominant gender norms. Media associates being gay with being young, white, in at least the upper-middle class, and generally male. Even in the case of Sheryl Swoopes, the media overshadowed her black racial identity by portraying her coming out through the lens of how white people come out. Despite the media still being susceptible to dominant norms, people are beginning to accept more athletes coming out, and that is a progressive step in itself. However, it is important to note that while supportive accolades from the public generate more acceptance of LGBTQ+ players, full equality, and as the above Huffington Post article explains, inclusiveness, representation, and safety for this community have yet to be reached.
Krane (2016) suggests how creating an inclusive environment where anyone can participate is a starting point to help athletes create team norms of inclusion. Physical educators in schools can help in this process, as Block (2014) explains how they can include alternative sports, which can lead to greater self-acceptance, especially for LGBTQ+ students whose school culture may not support them. She also notes how dominant sport forms promote hegemonic masculinity as aforementioned, and in order for schools to promote inclusivity, physical educators need to stress the sensitivity and inclusivity towards others through activity selections. Quidditch is one viable solution as the sport normalizes sensitivity towards others through the structure of its rules. An iNews article suggests how quidditch’s philosophy of inclusivity attracts young players of varying athletic talents, who may not feel comfortable in traditional sports settings, with an inclusive atmosphere. The Lavender Magazine also points out while LGBTQ+ athletes are not always open in sports, quidditch provides a safe space for people to both to come out or be involved in a team sport for the first time. And aside from the fact all quidditch governing bodies offer ways to get involved through a community or college team, the USQ website outlines how a student can start a high school team and offers membership packages, which include tournament insurance, grants, and participation in official events. The sport also blends power and performance while still being able to cater to all, as seen in their recent split to two divisions; division one for competitive play and division two for recreational play.
Athletic departments at post-secondary institutions, as Cunningham (2015) suggests, can and do act as places viable of social change. They can either provide an exclusive or inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ athletes and can thereby help support or refute dominant gender norms, which can spread outside of the department. Those that encourage inclusivity of LGBTQ+ athletes and coaches model the benefits of diversity to the rest of the institution as well as other athletic departments. With quidditch’s notoriety of being inclusive, allowing the sport to represent a university can send a message of inclusiveness to its students, faculty, and the public. Schools that have declared quidditch as a varsity sport and not just a recreational sports club, such as Texas A&M and Arizona State University, or even as a competitive sports club at the University of British Columbia, can be seen as supporting this notion and has led to subsequent schools following their lead. By adopting quidditch as a sport, colleges can begin to deinstitutionalize norms of exclusivity and heterosexism while institutionalizing new norms of LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusivity.
While Krane (2016) acknowledges a major shift in attitude of LGBTQ+ athletes, especially in North America, efforts to reduce prejudice and have greater acceptance of them is not universal. Most research today discusses Western countries’ changes in attitude, so there is little knowledge about other countries’ sports climates LGBTQ+ players face every day. Areas where relationships other than heterosexual ones are illegal, can also be very stressful for these athletes and can deter from their performance. With the advent of the IQA World Cup, formerly known as the Global Games, more countries are being exposed to the sport. Similar to how athletic departments can model inclusive behaviour, countries can show support for inclusivity through quidditch and influence other nations to follow as well. In the first IQA World Cup in 2012, five teams participated, which led to seven in the 2014 edition, and 21 in the 2016 event. The last competition had counties from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, with the lone team from Africa withdrawing before the event began. As quidditch continues to gain popularity worldwide, the sport’s mission to promote gender equality and diversity continues to be achieved. Unfortunately, the rate of which new countries around the world are entering a team to the IQA World Cup does not correlate with the public attention the sport gets. However, with more teams being created the more attention the sport continues to get, even if the public is still taking time to realize how legitimate the sport is becoming.
People continue to join and form quidditch teams, especially because of all the positive attention and benefits players experience. In a 2014 study, Cohen, Melton, and Peachey found participants who tried quidditch experienced a positive experience, and had increased desire for inclusivity and equality, stereotype reduction of other genders, as well as increased self-confidence and pride in women. Another study in 2015 by Cohen and Peachey also found how playing quidditch led to increased leadership skills, sociability, self-confidence, and pride similar to when playing other mainstream sports. These results highlight how an inclusive environment, such as the one quidditch provides, can lead to greater self-acceptance as well as acceptance and support for gender equality. A Vice article not only describes various instances of LGBTQ+ players feeling included, but also their teammates and coaches learning about other identifications, and in one case discovering their identity as gender neutral. As quidditch continues to expand, further research should be conducted about the sport worldwide as well as other individual effects of playing the game.
While dominant gender norms still exists in today, inclusive communities are taking progressive steps every day, such as the one quidditch has to offer. By having a gender inclusive rule to play and by continuing to attract all kinds of athletes worldwide, quidditch is achieving its mission of gender education and promotion of equality and diversity. If the sport continues to expand at the rate of the last decade, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact quidditch will have on global sports communities and environments.
So the next time you see people running around on broomsticks, you might want to stick around and be entertained or even consider trying the sport yourself. Community teams are always inviting new people to their practice, whether you simply want to figure out how the sport works or if you are looking to get on a roster to play in the 2018 IQA World Cup.
Can you think of any other sports which promote gender inclusivity? If so, what steps have they taken or are they taken in promoting equality and a safe environment for LGBTQ+ players? And do you believe mixed gender sports are the way of the future, or should sports still be segregated to male and female leagues, and why?
Billings, A.C., Moscowits, L.M., Rae, C. & Brown-Devlin, N. (2015). The art of coming out: Traditional and social media frames surrounding the NBA’s Jason Collins. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 92, 142-160.
Block, B. A. (2014). Supporting LGBTQ students in physical education: Changing the movement landscape. Quest, 66, 14-26.
Cohen, A., Melton, E. N., & Peachey, J. W. (2014). Investigating a coed sport’s ability to encourage inclusion and equality. Journal Of Sport Management, 28, 220-235. doi:10.1123/jsm.2013-0329
Cohen, A., & Peachey, J. W. (2015). Quidditch. Journal Of Sport & Social Issues, 39, 521-544.
Cunningham, G. B. (2015). LGBT inclusive athletic departments as agents of social change. Journal Of Intercollegiate Sport, 8, 43-56.
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Krane, V. (2016). Inclusion to exclusion: Sport for LGBT athletes. In R. J. Schinke, K. R. McGannon, B. Smith, R. J. Schinke, K. R. McGannon, B. Smith (Eds.), Routledge international handbook of sport psychology (pp. 238-247). New York, NY, US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Segrave, J. O. (2016). Challenging the gender binary: The fictive and real world of quidditch. Sport In Society, 19, 1299-1315.