So, I did it: I went to Florence and competed at the international level of a sport. It was expensive and it was hot and it was at times painful, but it was so worth it.
First, the results: Team Brazil finished 27th out of 29 teams. Because we lost all our games on Day 1 (to teams who would all make the upper bracket, including eventual champions USA), we got stuck in the relegation bracket on Day 2—where we competed with Iceland and Finland for the bottom three places. Iceland had to forfeit due to lack of players, but we beat Finland handily, and I’m proud to say I walked out of the World Cup with at least one victory.
Meanwhile, New Zealand—whom we were solidly beating in a scrimmage in the days leading up the Cup—placed 20th. So I’ll maintain that had the brackets fallen differently, we might’ve been able to eke out a better ranking.
I still had a really great time, though. Usually quidditch has just been this thing I did for fun in college, or a way for me to make friends while living overseas. But for the five days or so that I was in Florence, quidditch expanded to become my entire world. And it was so much fun to come together with people from all over the world to bond over this weird shared interest.
I arrived in Florence on Wednesday, going straight to the practice fields to meet the rest of my team. Some of them had played with each other before—either on the 2016 World Cup team, or on one of the three teams in Rio de Jainero—but for me, it was the first time meeting everyone. Of the twelve other people on my team, only seven of them lived in Brazil; the rest of them were Brazilians living in the US, UK, or Italy.
Later that evening was the Opening Ceremony, which actually turned out to be really cool. An entire pitch had been set up in Piazza Santa Croce, complete with stands for spectators and scaffolding for filming. (TIME live-streamed it, apparently.) There was Florentine marching and flag throwing as well as a parade for all the players already in Florence. But what was the most fun, though, was the exhibition match between Italy, the hosts, and Australia, the defending champions. It was low-contact and low-stakes (no one wanted to get hurt right before the Cup), but it was still my first time watching a quidditch match with a big group of spectators, and it was so much fun.
The atmosphere of World Cup was really what I loved. All the players had to stay at a campsite (with a sign calling it the Official Quidditch World Cup Village, which 110% made me feel more like an Olympian than I’d care to admit), so you were always surrounded by other players. Teams who brought flags hung them outside their chalets, and you could just strike up a conversation with whomever you found yourself waiting next to in lines. There was also a steady barter market for team jerseys, World Cup trading cards, and Pokemon Go, so there was always an excuse to go up and talk to someone.
(I opted out of the whole trading card thing because transhemispheric airfare is expensive enough, but I enjoyed looking at the cards my teammates had collected. My favorite was a headscarf-wearing beater from Malaysia whose card read “hijabis gonna hijabeat”.)
This friendliness extended to the pitch as well. whether we won or lost the match, I couldn’t help smiling as we all got together for a photo afterward.
Granted, the Cup had its challenges as well. First of all, my cleats had begun to break right before I came, and I was reluctant to buy new cleats without the proper time to break them in before the tournament. I managed to fix this problem with a combination of super glue and duct tape (called “American tape” in Italy, interestingly enough), but wrapping my cleats further shrunk the toe box, prompting worse blisters than normal. And although our uniform’s blue socks were snazzy, they were also sort of loose around the foot, and I don’t think that helped.
Second, World Cup games were spread over eight pitches across two complexes. Walking between the two farthest pitches took a solid fifteen minutes, as you needed to snake between fields and could only use certain exits and entrances. What’s worse is that all but two of these pitches were turf, which was fairly punishing to fall on and left me with scrapes even from the first day of practice.
Third, with temperatures reaching the mid-nineties, the tournament suffered from a lack of shade and clearly marked water sources. These conditions not only affected players but also the already-thin ranks of volunteers, and a couple games needed to be canceled on Day 2 due to a lack of people to staff them.
I had already decided this entire trip would be an adventure, though, so I tried to take everything in stride. This attitude had generally been helpful as I literally dashed through the Frankfurt airport, begging to skip lines, just so I could catch my flight to Rome after my flight in from São Paulo had been delayed. It was also helpful when I needed to return to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport the day after my arrival when my checked bag, which evidently didn’t make the Frankfurt connection, somehow went missing. And it was also helpful when I showed up to a campsite just outside of Florence at 9:00 p.m. Wednesday evening, two hours and a steep mile-long hike out of my way, and realized that I’d had the campsite wrong for over two months.
So when my captain asked me to try seeking (which I had never done before), I said yes. It was hard and not particularly enjoyable, but at least now I can say the first and only times I played as a seeker was in the Quidditch World Cup.
A few takeaways from the tournament, if you’re interested in the state of this sport:
First, the quality of play is increasing around the world. US, Australia, Canada, and the UK have dominated in years past, but this year Belgium and Turkey took second and third, respectively. This was probably due to bracket weirdness (we had a repeat of last Cup’s championship, US vs. Australia, in the quarterfinals), but these teams also played really well.
Second, quidditch seems to be spreading mainly through people from these top countries. It wasn’t uncommon to hear US-accented English from players on other teams. South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Mexico were all led by veteran US players—some of whom play Major League Quidditch in the US—and I think it helped them stand out from many of the newer European teams.
But the US isn’t the only one sending players abroad. Per IQA rules, a player is eligible to play for a national team if they are at least sixteen and either hold citizenship, lived in the country for at least three years, or have only played quidditch in that country during the last international season. The last clause is how I managed to get on Brazil’s team, and it’s also how a French beater who studied abroad in Dublin could play for Ireland, for example.
Third, there’s still a lot of controversy over how the International Quidditch Association is running itself and spending its money. If this sport is going to continue to grow at the international level—and all signs are pointing to that it’s still trying to—IQA is going to need to figure out how to run itself effectively. And with its current head stepping down, the replacement’s going to have their work cut out for them
But all the drama and politics aside: I had an incredible time at World Cup. Despite the heat and the scrapes and the blisters, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was also rejuvenating to spend some more time in Rome, my favorite city in the world—to see some old friends, people-watch at the tourist sites, and gorge myself on proper Italian food. I also want to extend a special thank you to Monica and her family, who allowed me to stay in their apartment in Rome (even when they were away) and thus helped make this trip possible.
Brooms up Brazil!