Right from when I first heard about roller derby, back in 2008, people were talking about how it should be an Olympic sport. At the time I thought that was a brilliant idea; some of the people I was watching whizzing around the oval could someday actually represent their country at the world's biggest sporting showcase. I mean just imagine how awesome that would be, to know Olympians? Sounds great. But over the years, despite the continuing movement to try and get roller derby involved in the Olympics, the less convinced I am that roller derby and the Olympics are a good match.
Leaving aside the politics, which is well documented and doesn't need to be gone over again, and IOC charter considerations - all 108 pages of which you can read here
- there are a few other reasons why roller derby should not be thinking about becoming an Olympic sport just yet. Firstly, derby is not a mature sport: the ruleset and tactics are still evolving and and being honed. For example, Kansas City Roller Warriors has just had its tenth anniversary and is the fourth oldest league in existence. That's really not a long time. It's like looking at the incomplete statues still extant in the archaic Greek Pentelic quarries - beautiful where finished, but still more beautiful if completed.
The second consideration is a byproduct of the first: depth. Currently the USA are a distance ahead of the other nations and that's not surprising given that the sport started there and has the biggest following and talent pool. But for the Olympics you need to have a slew of countries all vying for that coveted first position rather than a few looking at second place which is the current situation. Not only do there have to be more teams on a par at the very top, from the point of view of Olympic recognition, they also have to be from the 'correct' countries. If Russia, China, Japan and India, for example, all had national derby teams that were able to compete against the best of the rest, the call for derby in the Olympics would be much stronger. The IOC would look and say, well there's the best part of three billion potential viewers in those countries and they've all got international quality teams; makes the choice to include derby much easier purely for financial reasons. Remember too, the Olympics is mainly individual or small team oriented - the reasons why things like basketball and soccer have been introduced is for cash, pure and simple.
And this in turn leads to a third, and what will be for me, final consideration - corporatism. Derby is very proud of its anarchic, skater run and skater led, indie culture roots and general persona. This is completely at odds with the ultracorporatism of the IOC. The idea of skater owned and operated would be untenable, at least for national teams, and it would mean things like the death of skate names and many of the other things that have given derby such an appeal to so many people over the years. That's not even considering the controversy around the Sochi Olympics; some of the surrounding events would be very hard to square with the tenets of inclusiveness and equality in derby. Hellarad has already been lamenting the 'death of fun' in its latest (number 13) issue, and coming under the Olympic aegis would convert derby from a fun sport to a corporate business. Grey and anonymous and remarkably un-fun. To keep derby true to derby, it should heed the words of Pink Floyd and Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
So we should all just give up and stay a subculture, correct? Absolutely not. Derby could learn a lot from Steve Rechtschaffner and boardercross. It's only been around for ten years longer than derby yet became a Winter Olympic sport in 2006. Why? Well boardercross did something very clever. It went to the X Games. (Which has the advantage of being yearly as opposed to the four year Olympic cycle). Boardercross was a part of the winter X Games when it started in 1997 (televised in 198 countries) until 2012, was dropped in 2013, and there was such an outcry that it was reinstated in 2014. If there is any event to which derby is most naturally attuned, it's the X Games. You get competition at the very highest level, international recognition and sponsorship and, importantly, you get to keep the grass roots quirkiness. Nobody would ever say that roller derby has sold out if it became part of the X Games, even if just as a demonstration sport for a season or two.
So if derby wants an international stage, it should put the Olympics on the back burner and concentrate on the X Games. Doing so will bring in exposure, recognition and much needed revenue. Spend a few years getting ingrained in the sporting consciousness via ESPN and then maybe - maybe - use that as a springboard to the Olympics. But myself, I feel that the true cultural home of derby is the X Games, and not the Olympics.