Quidditch player runs on field
Avery Olivar, the captain of Syracuse University's quidditch team Syracuse Snare, approaches gender inclusivity while leading her team in a strategic yet welcoming way.

Cheyene Muenzel has played many sports throughout their life. From softball to taekwondo, Muenzel has been played individually and as part of teams typically organized by gender.

Separating sports by sex may seem obvious or traditional as it’s the way sports are played in the modern day. But in Muenzel’s experience this can be exclusive to athletes who don’t feel comfortable fitting into the gender binary.

“The most … gender-inclusive sport I’ve done was maybe cross country,” Muenzel said. “Even then, you had your boy’s heat and your girl’s heat, and there was no [heat] for the people like me who kind of aren’t comfortable with either, or comfortable with both, or just fall somewhere in between.”

Muenzel is a senior at SU and a chaser for the Syracuse Snare Quidditch club. They said the sport’s gender maximum rule, which places a cap on how many players of one gender can play on a team during a match, makes Quidditch different from other sports they have played. The gender maximum rule insists that there be no more than four players of one gender on the pitch during a match for each team.

Cheyene Muenzel plays quidditch

“With the gender maximum role [in Quidditch], it’s never like … we need as many boys as girls, we just need to not extend a maximum of one gender and one gender identity in particular,” Muenzel said. “Yeah, so [Quidditch] really is different than the sports I played before.”

Collegiate Quidditch is a mixed-gender contact sport based on the fictional game from the Harry Potter franchise.

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The game is most similar to rugby, but it includes elements of dodgeball and tag, according to the US Quidditch organization, the governing body of the sport within the United States. Teams are composed of seven players, each with a unique role, including three chasers, two beaters, one keeper, and the seeker. Throughout the game, players keep a broom between their legs to simulate the way the game is played on flying broomsticks in the fictional book series later popularized on the big screen.

“I find it really fascinating,” said Mitchell Vargas, a chaser and seeker for the team. “Quidditch in general is a very cerebral sport, just because there’s so much going on. … and then, on top of that, there’s this gender maximum rule that also contributes to even more strategy.”

two players compete in King's Cup
two players hug in celebration on the field

USQ’s gender maximum rule, called the Title 9¾ rule, is named after Platform 9¾ — the fictional train platform used to get to Hogwarts, the school of magic in Harry Potter — and Title IX, the federal civil rights law that requires education programs that receive federal funding to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex. The Title 9¾ rule removes gendered language from the sport, promoting mixed-gender teams and inclusivity.

According to the USQ, “Quidditch takes [the] benefits [of Title IX] a step further by promoting a sport that is truly free of gender-based restrictions, rather than evenly segregated between men and women (as it currently exists under Title IX).” The rule caters to transgender and non-binary athletes by using the word “gender” as opposed to Title IX’s “sex,” and rejecting the gender binary altogether with mixed-gender teams.

Athletes of all genders are encouraged to play Quidditch, and the gender maximum rule within Title 9¾ ensures that. This ultimately increases the diversity in players on the field, Mary Kimball, executive director of USQ, noted how the impact of Title 9¾ has evolved naturally over time.

Quidditch broom

“It’s more looked at [as] a way to include people of all genders, whether you are cis or trans, or a man or woman, or someone who’s nonbinary. That growth has been shared pretty widely across the whole community, which I think is really interesting,” Kimball said.

Written into its rules, Quidditch aims to support students of all genders. But how do these intentions play out on a real team? Members from SU’s Snare team affirmed the importance of the gender maximum rule and the role Title 9¾ plays in its experience as a competitive team. Elizabeth Lawson-Keister, a beater for SU’s team who has nine years of experience playing collegiate Quidditch, emphasized the strategy involved in including a variety of genders on one team.

“I think having all genders on a team is really helpful for thinking about strategy and thinking about strengths and weaknesses of players, and thinking about even what drills you’re gonna run and what language you’re going to use,” Lawson-Keister said.

Appealing to all genders during practices and games is a unique responsibility within the team. Avery Olivar, Captain of Syracuse Snare, constructs her approach to gender inclusivity in a strategic but welcoming way, ensuring that all players have the ability to practice in the positions they want to.

“Being in charge of a co-ed sport, you have to understand the different levels of athleticism you want to bring,” said Olivar. “Whether if it’s a conditioning practice or normal practice, or something that involves tackling because you have to … pair people up for different exercises, based on … [their] ability, height and weight, those kinds of things.”

Avery Olivar poses for a portrait in front of the Women's Building

The inclusivity of the sport and the gender maximum rule directly defy the slim promise of binary athletic equality offered by Title IX, creating a vision for what future sports equity could be. In a world where nonbinary and transgender athletes are often forgotten or purposefully excluded from binary sports, Quidditch is taking an active solution to a controversial issue.

Marcus Bell, an assistant professor of sociology at SUNY Cortland, teaches a sociology of sports class at SU. He said the gender binary within sports is problematic, and it is difficult for society to embrace change within sports.

“Sports cannot be neatly separated from the context in which they’re played,” Bell said. “Whenever there’s a change, especially to an institution that is as valued as sports are, there’s so much backlash. And if that backlash is rooted in not just protecting sports, but also in bigotry against marginalized groups, then it’s gonna be compounded.”

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Kimball, however, believes it is possible to challenge gender binaries within sports with rules like Title 9¾. Title IX should be interpreted through a lens that accounts for modern understandings of gender and its fluidity, Kimball said.

“We all have a greater awareness of the nonbinary people that are playing [Quidditch], the trans people that are playing [Quidditch]; our values have become more deliberate and open about saying ‘You are welcome here, this sport is a place for you,’” Kimball said. “To see Title IX used to close the door on that, I think that’s been one of the ways that we’ve [USQ] changed as an organization, just becoming more outspoken about it.”

According to the American Psychological Association, as of November 2021, legislation banning trans student-athletes from sports has been enacted in ten states, though 36 states introduced anti-transgender student athletics bills in 2021.

The quidditch team does drills inside a gym
Quidditch teammates work out together

Anne Osborne, a professor at SU’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, who has researched issues of gender in athletics, noted there is a blindspot in the conversation about professional athletes and anti-trans legislation.

Dr. Anne Osborne stands in front of her book shelf for a portrait

“There are any number of ways that athletes have natural competitive advantages,” Osborne said. “So whether it is that their bodies are able to process oxygen at a more efficient rate, or they have a wider wingspan and so then they could swim better than others — we don’t police those things.”

Osborne’s studies have boiled the issue down to a singular aspect: testosterone and its implications about defining masculinity. She believes that the emphasis placed on trans athlete’s hormones reflects a bigger fear in society of sex’s significance — or lack thereof.

“We’ve chosen to police this one aspect [testosterone] of people’s biological difference because it implicates this social structure that … would require the complete restructuring of society if we sort of say, ‘Oh, this doesn’t really exist.’ And that’s what scares people, I think. It’s not so much that we’re that worried about a few athletes not winning medals.”

two players fight over the ball

From a legal standpoint, Professor John Wolohan, an attorney specializing in sports law, emphasized that Title IX will play a role in how anti-trans legislation is received.

“It’s definitely not an easy issue,” Wolohan said. “More and more states are imposing restrictions on trans athletes, but those will be challenged. Title IX seems to say that they [states] can’t do that.”

Law Professor John Wolohan

Wolohan explained how Title IX serves as a legal protector of trans students at federally-funded high schools, but noted that independently-funded athletic associations don’t have the same legal responsibility. This absence of federal funding provides a loophole for independent athletic associations to behave in ways unbound by Title IX.

“The question is, if you’re a high school athletic association that’s imposing these rules, are you receiving federal funds?” Wolohan asked. “As a general rule? No. And so the question of whether Title IX applies to them? It applies to the high school in particular, but not to the, as a general rule, athletic association.”

While Quidditch — a collegiate sport subject to different federal fiscal authorities due to Title IX than high school athletic associations — is making significant strides in the reformation of Title IX, it’s not without its flaws.

The gender maximum rule can serve as a barrier for collegiate groups that don’t have enough players of different genders. At SU, for example, the Snare team has enough players of different genders to compose a team on its own, but not without tiring its male players.

“Right now, we’re a joint team with Syracuse and RIT [Rochester Institute of Technology],” Muenzel said. “And the reason why is because of the gender maximum rule. We have technically just enough guys that we would be able to have a full team out on the field, but they wouldn’t be able to have any alternates, so [they’d] be playing the full time and like… it’s an exhausting game, you’re running back and forth, no matter what you’re playing.”

A close-up of a player on the field

Recruiting can pose a problem to teams that lack the proper numbers. With a gender maximum rule that doesn’t budge above four players of one gender on the pitch at a time, teams that are dominated by one gender are essentially disqualified from playing USQ matches.

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Another issue posed by Title 9¾ arises with teams that are extremely competitive and aim to reduce the impact of the gender maximum rule on their rosters. Lawson-Keister explained that some teams, often male-dominated teams, have strategically constructed their gameplay to include as few women and nonbinary players as possible.

“There are like, really competitive, typically men, on a team who want to optimize the best they can,” Lawson-Keister said. “And so, a lot of times, to them, they’ll be like, ‘Okay, we need like the minimum number of women or non-male players to have the team run.’” In her experience, she added that some male-dominated teams can be aloof toward women interested in Quidditch, which discourages some women from playing the sport.

Another issue to stem from Title 9¾ involves how the Quidditch community refers to players and their gender identity. Within the Quidditch community, a conversation that has risen in the past years involves “ensuring that we’re not lumping the issues of women, trans people, and nonbinary people all together,” according to Kimball.

“Sometimes … the way that it gets written about in the community is like ‘men and gender-minority,’ or for a while it was ‘male and non-male,’ that was actually a common shorthand, and honestly, still kind of is,” Kimball said. “People are trying very hard to not use the word ‘non-male’ … it’s very common, especially if you look at Quidditch analysis. Not necessarily maybe in the last two-ish years, but prior to that, if you search for non-male, you’re gonna see that used a lot.”

volleyball with snare written on it

Another side effect of Title 9¾ is the divide created between male players and players of all other genders, according to Kimball. This is because the rule suggests males are the dominant gender and everyone else is considered a minority. She noted semantics in the national Quidditch community are starting to be corrected, especially as acceptance for genders beyond the binary becomes more mainstream.

“We’re using terminology that reflects how people want to be talked about,” Kimball said. “For a while, there was a recommendation that you use the word ‘gender nonconforming’ instead of saying ‘nonbinary’ or ‘trans’ or something, but really, anyone could be gender nonconforming. So … transgender and nonbinary people is probably a more precise way of saying gender nonconforming.”

Despite the issues presented by Title 9¾, the consensus by players on Syracuse’s Snare team is that the gender maximum rule and Quidditch’s emphasis on gender inclusivity are overwhelmingly positive.

“There’s still just this overwhelming like camaraderie,” Muenzel said. “We genuinely want the best for our, for our team members. But also for the other team … Everybody has really respected different gender identities, different sexualities, everything.”