Later this week, I’ll be heading to Calgary for the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup (hosted by Chinook City Roller Derby). Twenty countries will be playing on two tracks over two days, nineteen of which are trying to unseat the defending champion United States. This is the second Men’s Roller Derby World Cup after the initial event in Birmingham, England, in March 2014. That event consisted of fifteen nations.
The rise of men’s flat track roller derby has not been a smooth one in the community, and understandably so. Eight-Wheeled Freedom is clearly built around the notion that flat track roller derby is a women’s sport, but one that now happens to be played by men. Coming to this basic level of understanding took the community a long time, and it’s an acceptance that is still ongoing. This is the story told in the chapter “Lifestyle vs. Sport: Men, Children and the Grassroots Explosion.”
Why are men’s and junior roller derby equated? Well, the emergence of both happened to occur at the same time, and, the chapter argues, they both emerged when roller derby transitioned from being solely a punk-rock third-wave feminist lifestyle movement into also being a full-on competitive sport.
From the book:
“It may seem strange to equate the entry of men and children into the sport, but the beginnings of both mirror each other in timing. The connections between men’s and junior derby may seem on the surface to be an accident of time, but they are an off-track side effect of the on-track evolution of the women’s game. The fact of the matter is that the growth of these two aspects of the game stem from the same shift in the flat track roller derby community. Men’s and junior derby were essentially given the space to emerge when flat track roller derby stopped being exclusively a lifestyle and started being a sport.”
One of the key aspects of the rise of flat track roller derby has been the global grassroots explosion, which had never occurred with any other version of the game and which has been key to the accelerated growth of this version of the game. This aspect of the sport is primarily covered in the chapter “Going Global: The Roller Derby World Cup and the Globalization of the Game.” The chapter charts the rise of the global flat track community through the organization—particularly—of the first men’s and women’s World Cups concluding that “within just over a decade, what had started as an all-woman underground American game had become a global, multicultural sport played by everyone.”
Inevitably, this exploration led to the hotly debated topic of flat track’s inclusion in the Olympics (still a long way off) and the developing tension with FIRS (Federation Internationale Roller Sports), which is currently the IOC-recognized governing body of many roller skating disciplines. FIRS, primarily through its relationship with USARS (USA Roller Sports), would like to gather roller derby under its wings, a move that has been met with some understandable resistance from the democratically run WFTDA.
Whatever the future holds for the sport on a global level, the present is establishing a strong foundation to build on. The second Women’s Roller Derby World Cup was even bigger than the first, and the Men’s second addition promises the same growth.
*Eight-Wheeled Freedom launched in Toronto on June 20 and is slowing rolling to stores near you (and is available online).