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Quidditch is now quadball, distancing game from J.K. Rowling, league says

University of Maryland quidditch team member Heather Farnan, center, stands on defense with a bludger during practice in College Park, Md., on April 8, 2019. (Will Newton/For The Washington Post)
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LONDON — A sport invented by British author J.K. Rowling in her hugely popular Harry Potter series — which features witches and wizards flying on broomsticks trying to score goals — is rebranding.

The fictional game has been a real-life sensation among muggles for more than a decade and is played as a fast-paced, mixed-gender contact sport across the world.

As part of an effort to distance the sport from its creator, who has sparked controversy for her views on transgender issues, the International Quidditch Association (IQA) announced that the sport will now be known as quadball.

“This is an important moment in our sport’s history,” said Chris Lau, chair of the IQA board of trustees, in a statement. “We are confident in this step and we look forward to all the new opportunities quadball will bring.”

The global body said one of the main reasons for the name change was that Rowling “has increasingly come under scrutiny for her anti-trans positions.” It listed LGBTQ advocacy groups that had criticized the writer, as well as lead actors who appeared in the hugely popular Harry Potter movies and who were also critical of her views.

The IQA said a second reason for the name change was trademarks and licensing. The trademark for “quidditch” is owned by the Warner Bros. entertainment company, and organizers want to use the quadball trademark to continue to grow the game “into a mainstay of organized sports.”

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Rowling, 56, fueled a social media storm after she shared her opinions on Twitter and later penned a lengthy personal essay on transgender issues, prompting many in the LGBTQ community to accuse her of transphobia. Rowling has said that she supports trans rights and has been a long-standing donor to LGBTQ charities but that she does not believe in “erasing” the concept of biological sex.

She has not publicly commented on the name change, but earlier this month she tweeted: “Like many women on the left, I despair that so many self-proclaimed liberals turn a blind eye to the naked misogyny of the gender identity movement and the threat it poses to the rights of women and girls.” Rowling, who could not immediately be reached for comment early Wednesday, added: “I believe women are susceptible to certain harms and have specific needs and that feminism is necessary to secure and protect our rights.”

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Actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who played the trio of best friends Harry, Hermione and Ron, respectively, on the fabled Hogwarts school set, have all publicly distanced themselves from Rowling’s comments and said they stand with the trans community.

The proposal to change the sport’s name was first made in March, and thousands of players across the globe were polled on the new name, the IQA said, before they settled on quadball — which refers to both the number of balls and the number of positions used in the sport.

Quidditch soared off the page and was adapted for the real-life pitch in 2005, when it was first played at Middlebury College in Vermont. The rules became gradually codified, and the sport took off in 2007.

It now boasts nearly 600 teams in 40 countries, the IQA said, and is often broadcast on television and online.

Seven players on each team — among them chasers, beaters and a seeker (Harry Potter’s own position) — attempt to score the quaffle ball through opposition hoops. Instead of flying, the players run with ersatz broomsticks positioned between their legs as they jostle, catch, defend and tackle to score points and win.

“The broom adds a layer of skill and complexity to the sport, through a handicap which works the same way you must pass a ball backwards in rugby, or can only kick the ball” in soccer, according to QuidditchUK, the sport’s governing body in Britain.

The sport is “unique as the only full-contact, mixed-gender sport in the world, especially to those who identify with the trans or non-binary communities,” QuidditchUK says on its website. “We celebrate that inclusion of those from the LGBTQ+ communities, and greatly encourage anyone from any background to take part in our sport.”

Major League Quidditch, a league in the United States and Canada, and U.S. Quidditch, the sport’s U.S. governing body, are also parties to the name change.

“Quadball isn’t just a new name, it’s a symbol for a future for the sport without limitations,” Major League Quidditch founders wrote in a letter posted online Tuesday. “With it, we hope to turn the sport into exactly what it aspires to be: something for all.”

Major League Quidditch said it “did not make this name-change lightly” and expects to revamp franchises by the fall and continue with brand changes before the end of the year. Changing the sport’s name “opens unprecedented opportunities for growth, exposure and partnerships,” the group added.

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In Britain, QuidditchUK said it fully supports the rebranding, calling it a “great moment in the development of our sport.”

“The name change indicates a firm stance with our trans players and members, as well as giving us more firm legal footing and opening up greater opportunities for funding and external partners,” it said on its website. The quidditch rebrand will continue this year, and players should also expect the names of the balls to be amended as part of the overhaul. The name of the snitch — a magical golden ball in the books, and a role played by a person in the game — will also be changed.

Rowling’s Harry Potter books first published in 1997 have become a bedtime staple for many children and a global phenomenon, with movies, theme parks and merchandise.

The stories follow the orphaned wizard Harry as he seeks to save the magical world from nemesis Voldemort, alongside his classmates. The hugely popular books have sold more than 500 million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than 80 languages.

The next international quidditch tournament will take place this weekend in Limerick, Ireland, the IQA said, with teams from Europe, Australia and Hong Kong taking part.

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