Friday, January 2, 2015

Welcome to Europe

Although the Quidditch Post has done its best and continues to look to cover quidditch all over the world, European quidditch still remains a bit of a mystery to many of our readers. To get the lowdown on what quidditch in Europe is really like, we chatted with Laurens Grinwis Plaat Stultjes who might as well be Mr. Europe in the quidditch community.

Quidditch Post: What is your role in European quidditch?
Laurens Grinwis Plaat Stultjes: I don't have an official role in European quidditch. However, I am the Gameplay Director of the Belgian Quidditch Federation (BQF). But without having an official function in the European Committee (EC), I still manage to get a lot of information from different corners of Europe. I also recently became the Gameplay Director of the third European Quidditch Cup (EQC2015), where 32 teams from all over Europe will battle to become the 2014-15 season European champion.

QP: You mentioned the European Quidditch Cup. Where did the idea to have a single championship for teams across the continent come from? It almost feels like the Champions League of quidditch.
L: It actually will be some kind of Champions League. This year will be the first time teams need to go through their National Governing Bodies (NGB) qualifying tournament. Some only have a few teams who automatically qualify, like Turkey, Austria, and Poland, but in the UK, France, Italy, and Belgium, qualifying for EQC is a big deal.

The idea came from the European Regional Tournament, first held in Lesparre-Médoc, France in 2012. This "European Quidditch Championship" (that was the name back then) was the regional qualifier for World Cup VI, held in Kissimmee, Florida. In the first European Championship, only six teams competed: five French teams and one Italian team. Those were also the first 'real' IQA teams in Europe. Paris Phénix won the championship and went to World Cup VI.

In the 2013-14 season, new teams came on the scene, the name was changed to "European Quidditch Cup," and more teams were eager to play against other teams around Europe. There were two new Belgian teams, four French teams, two Italian teams, two UK teams, one Catalan team, and one Norwegian team. Suddenly, the European Quidditch Cup was the biggest tournament in Europe. The hype after the tournament was real, and all of the new and existing teams wanted to definitely have another one the next season.

Late in the 2013-14 season, the IQA-USQ split occurred, which was claimed to be 'forced' by team heads and officials all over Europe who were not happy with how things were run. This is one of the reasons why no European team attended World Cup VII, even when six qualified. EQC was not a qualifier anymore, and teams were everywhere. NGBs popped up everywhere, the European Committee was formed, and EQC was reborn.

QP: So how many countries will be represented at EQC?
L: There will be 11 'countries' present for sure. Or, it’s better to say which National Governing Bodies will be present: UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, Poland, Austria, and Catalonia.

There's a misunderstanding with the term 'country' here in Europe. Some regions from a country have the right to have their own sports governing body. And something like that is happening in Spain at the moment. Catalonia currently has four teams, while Spain only has one (the Basque Country has between four and seven players). Catalonia has its own governing body; Spain does not.

QP: Thanks for clarifying that. I remember that back in 2012 when the Olympic Exhibition was in the UK, there were only two European teams (the UK and France). This past summer, the UK, France, and Belgium sent teams all the way to Burnaby. What has caused the expansion from two nations essentially in 2012 to now 11?
L: In 2012, only France and Italy were really around. There was some quidditch in the UK, but they only really joined after the Quidditch Summer Games in 2012. A lot of people from around Europe go study in the UK and pick up quidditch over there. They come home and want to start a quidditch team; this happened to Norway and the Netherlands. Or, teams start up when people from the US and Canada come over to Europe to study abroad and miss playing quidditch; this happened with Dávid Danos in Belgium. The sport has grown, and now there are more people talking about quidditch around the world. Poland, for example, played until last year with completely different rules, but because it heard what was happening in the rest of Europe, it now plays under the IQA’s rules.

So there are three main reasons for this expansion: studying abroad and picking up quidditch, encountering someone who played quidditch who is now studying abroad, and the Internet.

QP: That's really interesting. I remember in 2012 one of the reasons for the exhibition was to spread the game. Do you think that was a factor, or do you think quidditch would have still evolved even without that event?
L: I'm not sure. I think it would have evolved but not as rapidly as it has. With the Summer Games, quidditch became this thing everyone in the UK became aware of. Everyone in Europe will agree that UK is the biggest, most legit quidditch scene on the continent. If Oxford didn't host the exhibition, I don't think it would have grown as fast in the UK. And with everyone in Europe wanting to achieve the UK level today, quidditch grows every day.

QP: So what is it about the UK, in your opinion, that has allowed quidditch to thrive compared to the rest of Europe? Is it something as simple as sharing a language with the United States, and I'm assuming having more students study abroad there, or is there another factor?
L: The UK is full of colleges and universities, and every college/university has sports clubs. Quidditch started as a college sport in the US and worked perfectly. With a lot of colleges in the UK having a quidditch team and having the same people always around, it's way easier to get a team off the ground and running. There aren't a lot of college teams on mainland Europe. There are barely any; over 90 percent of all teams are community teams, and that makes it harder for finding time for practice, etc.

QP: And the UK will host EQC at Oxford. If I recall correctly, the other bids were Paris and Rome. What was behind the decision to have the event in Oxford ?
L: I do not know the exact details. I presume because they have hosted beautiful events like the first British Quidditch Cup, Valentine’s Cup, and Christmas Cup. They just know what to do when it comes to organizing huge tournaments. However, this will be the biggest one ever on European ground. The Radcliffe Chimeras, from Oxford, are also the current European and British Champion.

QP: Earlier you alluded to the recent move to NGBs rather than the IQA governing everything, a decision perceived to have been motivated by Europeans. Has this had an impact on quidditch in Europe?
L: In my opinion, it has. Countries and regions are able to start their own NGBs without being 'controlled' from the US. We're now more free. It makes every country really control the sport on its own ground. Also, there's direct feedback when something goes wrong. The communication in the past with the US was somewhat hard. Also, some US policies just did not work in Europe, which the old IQA pushed forward.
However, some things are still hard to manage since we have all these different NGBs and national policies. It makes it somewhat difficult for international tournaments. Luckily, with the foundation of the European Committee, most of this will be solved.

QP: What is the European Committee? Is comparing it to UEFA with the IQA as FIFA appropriate?
L: You could say that, yes. It's basically a sub-committee of the IQA but only regarding Europe with only European representatives. They are responsible for European international policies, EQC, and the European Games.

QP: Excellent. I've noticed that Europe, and in particular the UK, has tried some new ideas (things not tried in the US) that seem really interesting. I'm thinking of, for example, Valentine's Cup and the Challenge Shield. Are there any ideas in Europe that you think would be particularly well-suited for US quidditch?
L: Maybe this is not really quidditch-related, but just the traveling cost. In Europe, it's really cheap to travel to another country, which makes it easy to have international, cross-border play. But in the US, the traveling cost is quite high and makes inter-regional games hard.

To let the game grow bigger, you need to get that cross-region game. That’s what makes quidditch in Europe grow so fast; the top teams from every country (especially the UK, Belgium, and France) are 'equal' to each other. But in the US, clearly one region dominates. If teams were able to afford to play more games in the Southwest region, they would automatically become stronger.

QP: So if you had to make some predictions for quidditch in Europe for 2015 and beyond, what do you think will happen? Where will there be growth? Will quidditch continue to expand this rapidly? Are there any countries that are going to join the top tier of teams?
L: I know for sure that Belgium will be stepping up its game big time. The Deurne Dodos are already one of the favourites to win EQC, and we're preparing ourselves for the European Games.

The growth will definitely be in the Netherlands, Poland, and Austria. These countries have not been around that long, but they will be represented at EQC. The same thing happened to Belgium and Catalonia last season. Teams attended EQC, and a rapid expansion followed.

I'm looking forward to Turkish quidditch. I think everyone is. We don't really know a lot about them, but they could be an outsider this year. Spanish quidditch might finally come off the ground too. With a team in Madrid and one in Basque, they want to form a Spanish NGB.

I hope we finally get some more news from Norway. They've been around for a long time now, but we only get a few updates a year from them. 

And with the European Games in July, I'm sure all of Europe will soon know what quidditch is really about.

QP: Thank you for your time, Laurens. We really appreciate it.

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