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Sweep Stakes

Harry Potter’s favorite sport, quidditch, crosses over into real life

Author Alice Philipson Illustration Marc Rosenthal


ITALY – In a small field on the edge of Sarteano, an ancient hilltop town near Siena, a young man dashes along with a soccer ball in his hand and a broomstick between his legs. Nearby, another man is running after a woman with a sock pinned to her back, trying to claim the tennis ball within. “Come on, Ireland!” cries a sunburned onlooker. “We haven’t come all the way here to see you lose!”

Sarteano doesn’t usually get that many visitors—tourists prefer its wine-producing neighbor, Montepulciano—but today its flag-festooned streets are heaving with people, here for the first Quidditch European Games.

Quidditch, the wizarding pastime first seen in the Harry Potter books in the 1990s, is becoming a proper sport, played at some of the world’s leading universities, including Oxford and Harvard. It is taken seriously enough that 12 national squads from across Europe have made the journey to the Tuscan hills.

Velia Cavallini, a 24-year-old au pair who lives in England, is applying red, white and green paint to the face of an Italian teammate, taking care to avoid his immaculate goatee. “It can get competitive, even violent,” she says, eyeing a British forward with blood dripping from a gash on his forehead. Team U.K. is fresh from a 240-0 walkover against Ireland, and the Italians are next.

For a while, buoyed by the screams of the home crowd, the Italians hold their own. But the Brits soon find their magic touch and launch a blistering attack up the left-hand touchline. “Brooms down!” yells the referee, announcing the first goal amid a chorus of groans from the stands. The following day, the fates are turned on their heads as the French pull off a spectacular victory against Britain in the final. Hourra!

Afterward, fans congregate in the town’s central piazza, sipping Aperol spritzes and exchanging trash talk. “It’s a physically demanding mixed sport that’s just really good fun,” says Giulio Cioncoloni, one of the tournament’s organizers, as he hands out souvenir T-shirts to passersby. “Even if there are a few too many persnickety Anglo-Saxon rules.” 

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