Potter Fans Want Quidditch To Be An Olympic Sport

Harry Potter fans from around the globe have descended on Oxford, England, to take part in the first major international quidditch tournament and to promote the sport for possible inclusion in future Olympic Games. Players say that the real world version of the fictional sport, created by author J.K. Rowling, is as physically demanding and competitive as Rugby and less ridiculous than some of the other sports that are already included in the Olympics.

In the Harry Potter books and films quidditch players fly around the playing field on magical brooms while attempting to score goals on their opponents. Since no one has figured out how to create a flying broom just yet, the game was adapted for play on the ground instead. In 2005, a group of students from Middlebury College in Vermont came up with a set of rules for the sport, which features teams of seven and employs three different balls. In a nod back to the original source material, each of the players are also required to keep a broom between his or her legs at all times.

Since its creation the rules of the game have been refined and ground quidditch has taken off across the globe. The sport is now played by 700 teams in 25 countries around the globe and while many players are obviously Potter fans, an increasing number have never read the books or seen the movies. They’re all drawn to the unique combination of rugby, dodge ball and tag that makes the sport stand out from any other.

Whether or not quidditch will ever get included in the Olympics remains to be seen. Before it can achieve that level of recognition, it first must become more universally recognized around the world as a true sport and create an international governing body. Once that is achieved, that governing body can file an application to be included in the Games as a demonstration sport. After that, a second application can be filed for full inclusion in the next Olympics.

While I have to admit the game actually sounds kind of fun, the thought of running around a field with a broom between my legs just seems ridiculous. Then again, curling uses brooms and it seems way sillier than this.

[Photo credit: Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images]

I Miss The ‘Crap’ English Weather

I’ve just returned from a five-day trip to England, in which we saw the sun for an aggregate of about 15 minutes, but I miss the English weather already. It’s supposed to be 102 today in Washington, D.C., and 104 tomorrow. Factoring in the heat index, it will feel like a place well within easy commuting distance of hell.

June went down as the wettest June in the U.K. since rainfall records began to be recorded in 1910, with over 5.7 inches of rain. The British newspaper The Independent also noted other “lousy” and “disappointing” characteristics of the June weather: it was also the second least sunny June, with only 119 hours of sunshine, and also the coolest since 1991.

Given Britain’s reputation for wet, cool weather, the fact that records were set is saying something. But at least the Brits have a good sense of humor about their miserable weather. Reuters reports that Belgium is considering taking legal action against a weather service that made a long term forecast for a rainy summer on the Belgian coast.I was at Wimbledon last Monday in the rain and I asked a security guard I was chatting with if June had seemed especially dismal to him.

“You can always count on crap weather here,” he said. “That’s why you find the English on holiday in Spain, Greece and anywhere else where the sun shines.”

The Brits are so accustomed to bad weather that the Guardian’s weather map for the U.K. (see above) included the following key icons last week: showers, heavy showers, light rain, rain, thundery rain, thundery showers, overcast/dull, mostly cloudy and sunny intervals. How’s that for crap weather? In the States, we just get showers, rain or thunderstorms on our weather maps.

Five years ago, on a mid summer retreat to Newfoundland, the coldest place I could find within 1,000 miles of my home, we encountered a similarly gloomy, yet very detailed forecast. We were driving up to a town called Twillingate and heard a weather forecast on the radio that had us in tears. The presenter used the words “patchy fog, patchy drizzle” and “patches of patchy fog and patchy drizzle,” over and over and over again to describe the forecast in every town in Newfoundland, which has a climate almost as bad as the U.K.

“Why doesn’t he just save time and say the weather sucks in the whole province?” my wife asked, quite sensibly.

With the Olympic Games set to begin in London on July 27, one can’t help but wonder how much Britain’s notoriously wet weather will impact the events. According to a story in the Associated Press, five weather forecasters will be “embedded with the games and working around the clock, providing long- and short-range forecasts for the event.” But they could have 100 forecasters and it isn’t going to change the gloomy reality that the athletes can probably expect wet weather.

And yet, I rather prefer the chilly gloom to baking in the heat and humidity we have here in Washington. For those of us who call this place home, we’re more or less stuck here, but I feel compelled to pose a polite, yet pointed question to the tourist hordes that come here every year in July and August: why? What the hell are you thinking? Washington is wonderful in the spring and fall and miserable in the middle of summer.

Call me crazy but I’ll take 62 degrees and drizzle over 104 with humidity any day.

Unique London Transport Option: Panda Cabs

As a cross-promotion with Chengdu, China, London is bringing “panda cabs” into the city. The campaign includes 50 cabs painted with “Go Chengdu,” the official English tourism website of the Chinese city.

Home of giant pandas, Chengdu showcases their iconic animal on the cabs. While 30 of the taxis are made to look like actual pandas, 20 others are covered in images of the animal. The taxis are part of a summer program themed “Panda Cabs Running For The Olympics.”

Explains Go Chengdu in a press release, “Taking the good opportunity of the London Olympic Games, the Chengdu program is aimed to promote global efforts to conserve the giant pandas, one of the most endangered animals on Earth with only about 1600 living in the world, and harmony between man and nature, which echoes the Olympic spirit of unity, friendship and peace.”

And, if you’ll notice above, even the royal family is helping the cause.

The special cabs, which will circle big name sites like Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly, Marble Arch and Trafalgar Square, will run until August 31, 2012.

Climber To Fulfill 88-Year-Old Olympic Pledge On Everest

The spring climbing season is about to get underway in the Himalaya where teams of mountaineers are already descending on Kathmandu in preparation for their expeditions to come. Amongst them is veteran British climber Kenton Cool who is not only seeking his tenth successful summit of the world’s tallest peak, but is also looking to fulfill an 88-year-old Olympic pledge before the games return to London this summer.

Back in 1922, the Himalaya mostly remained a blank spot on the map. Those wild and rugged mountains seemed nearly impassable at the time and explorers spent years mapping their jagged peaks and high passes. One of those explorers was Lt. Colonel Edward Strutt who led one of the first expeditions that attempted to climb Everest. His team actually reached a height of 27,000 feet, which was well below the 29,029-foot summit but still managed to set a new altitude record at the time.

News of that record spread around the globe and gave hope to many that Everest would soon be conquered for King and Country. It wasn’t of course. It would be another 31 years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay would become the first men to stand on the summit, but Strutt became quite the celebrated figure. So much so that in 1924, at the Olympic Games in Paris, he and his team were awarded gold medals for their accomplishments on Everest. When he received his medal from Baron Pierre du Coubertin, the Lt. Colonel promised he would carry it with him when he eventually went to the top of the mountain. Later that same year, George Mallory and Sandy Irvine would go missing on their famous Everest expedition and it would be another nine years before another team of Brits attempted the climb again. As a result, Edward Strutt never got the opportunity to take his Olympic gold to the highest point on the planet.

Now, nearly nine decades later, Cool wants to fulfill Strutt’s pledge at last. Today Kenton begins his trek to Everest Base Camp on the south side of the mountain. That trek will take upwards of ten days to complete and once there he’ll begin the long and grueling process of climbing a mountain that he already knows very well. Depending on weather conditions, it could take Cool about six weeks to deliver the gold medal to the summit.

You can follow Kenton’s progress on the expedition’s Facebook page by clicking here and hitting the “Like” button. We’re likely to get daily updates from the trek and climb as well as some stunning photos and videos from the breathtaking Khumbu Valley.

Britain’s Heritage Cities are ready for visitors

Thanks to the London Olympics, which will open on July 27, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, 2012 is expected to be a boom year for tourism in Great Britain. In the hopes of capitalizing on this trend, six historic cities have teamed up to get noticed by travelers intent on venturing beyond the English capital.

Bath, Carlisle, Chester, Oxford, Stratford-Upon-Avon, and York, Britain’s so-called Heritage Cities, are trying to lure tourists with eight itineraries that explore their shared history. The Literary, Visual and Performing Arts tour, for example, takes in Oxford, Bath, and Stratford with stops at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Bodleian Library, the model for Hogwarts Library in the ‘Harry Potter’ series. Meanwhile, travelers interested in England’s North Country may want to follow the Great Castles, Stately Homes, and Gardens tour, which visits three countries (England, Wales, and Scotland) and three Heritage Cities (Carlisle, Chester, and York), and includes stops at a 12th century castle, the homes of Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth, and sections of Hadrian’s Wall.

Beyond exploring these cities in a package tour, Britain’s Heritage Cities website offers a glimpse of the top 10 attractions in each town. Did you know that York is considered the most haunted city in Europe? Or, that the city of Chester still carries on the medieval tradition of town criers? The most oh-so-British traditions and folklore live on in these Heritage Cities, so it may be worth checking them out while the past is still present.