In 2011, when Team Canada and Team France took to the track in Toronto to kick off group play at the inaugural Women’s Roller Derby World Cup, the sport of flat track roller derby was beginning its first tentative steps into global legitimacy. Three years later, on March 14, 2014, when England and Argentina take the track in Birmingham, England, as the first participants in the group stage of the first-ever Men’s World Cup, the sport will have truly become a global phenomenon.
Unlike the Women’s World Cup, there is heavy involvement in the Men’s tournament from the Men’s Roller Derby Association (MRDA), and the event will be played under the WFTDA/MRDA ruleset (the Women’s World Cup has recently announced that it too has decided to use this rule set—despite an initial decision not to), and Miss Trial, the MRDA’s head official, will head up the officials crew at the event.
There will be fifteen countries represented at the World Cup, and as with the women’s event, USA enters the tournament as the heavy favourites, but France, Finland and Canada are all expected to compete with a few other dark horses out there (including a virtually unknown Japanese Team).
Led by Head Coach Lime (who has coached, literally, from coast to coast in this country) and Jess Bandit (one of the coaches of the Mont Royals, and one of our country’s finest players with Team Canada and Montreal’s New Skids on the Block), the majority of Canada’s team features, not surprisingly, heavy representation from the more established men’s leagues in Vancouver, Red Deer, Montreal and Calgary (Glenmore), but Toronto Men’s Roller Derby will send two representatives to England in the form of skater Harrassin’ Ford and Assistant Coach BruiseBerry Pie (who will be joined by Calgary’s Demolition Herbie as Assistants).
Men’s derby has had a comparatively slow and slightly more fumbling ride to the limelight than the women’s version of the game, staggered by a mix of politics and the perception of the sport as exclusively a women’s game, but over the past two or so years in particular, the men’s game has taken off. The rise of the MRDA (and its direct ties to WFTDA) and the undeniable brilliance of teams like MRDA champs Your Mom’s Roller Derby have thrust the sport into the spotlight.
“Coming from someone who didn’t know there was a men’s roller derby community until I was involved in the women’s game for two years, something like this is huge,” says Ford, echoing the awkward pace of growth of the men’s game. Ford began his career as a ref and played his first co-ed game in summer 2011. At the time, he was light years away from being a national team member, but a phenomenal commitment to skating and to learning the game has aided and quickened his development. He was one of the first members of the Toronto Men’s Roller Derby (and its team, Toronto Outrage) and continues to ref on a regular basis.
Despite his depth of experience as a ref, Harrassin’ is still relatively new to the men’s game. “I’m very excited to be going over and being part of this team after being involved in this sport for such a short period of time,” he says. “It’s an honour for me even just to go over and watch.”
On the track, Harrassin’ points to some of Canada’s more experienced players as the ones to watch. One of the founding members of the team, Vancouver’s Noah Backtalk—who is also a respected coach and ref in the community—will be an on-track leader of the team along with Montreal’s El Tennant and Tank (not to mention The Rev, who, like Noah, is another one of our country’s first-ever players of the men’s game). Harrassin’ also points out that Red, who plays for Ottawa’s Slaughter Squad, is a jammer to watch. However, he notes that one of the stories of the whole tournament could be the father-son duo of Riceball and BrADASS, who play for the Glenmore Reservoir Dogs (Calgary).
Canada opens the tournament against Belgium. They will be joined in their group by Japan and Scotland. All teams play a placement-style round robin(of 30 minute games) in the group stage to set the rankings for the knock-out portion of the tournament (similar to the 2011 Women’s World Cup). Canada is expected to do well in its pool, and if it manages to finish in the top two, will move on to take on either Wales or one of the heavily favoured Finnish or US Teams (“I think we can give them a good competitive game if nothing else,” Ford says of a potential matchup against the US). If they slip into the bottom of their pool, they’d face one of the bottom-ranked teams from the group featuring France, Ireland, Australia and Germany in the “Jug” (consolation) bracket.
Regardless of the outcome, much like the first-ever Women’s World Cup, this tournament is about much more than winning and losing. This is all about giving the men’s game a prominent showcase and growing the sport as a whole. “It’s great when a bunch of different countries can throw together teams that are this competitive,” says BruiseBerry Pie. “It helps bring everyone up together.” Harrassin points out that “any and all exposure for the sport is good!”
Bruisey goes on to say that this will be especially important for the North American game, where the focus is primarily on MRDA club-level play. “In North American, we don’t really know how much is going on in Europe. They are so close together that they can get together and play each other all the time…the more people play each other the more parity we will have,” she points out, alluding to the potential strength of the European contingent.
From a tight-knit group of women in a roller rink in Austin, Texas, in April 2003, to the top fifteen countries in the men’s game in an arena Birmingham, England, in March 2014, the story of flat track roller derby has been one of steady, consistent growth. While the future is excitably unknowable, one thing is for certain: when the first ever Men’s Roller Derby World Cup comes to a close, it will conclude another incredibly important chapter in the development of this sport.
**See the full Canadian roster here at Canadian Derby Frontier. For the full listing of teams, click here. A full schedule can be downloaded here. The first game kicks off at 4:30 AM (EST). The whole tournament will be boutcast live.