Text and photos: Nina Uddin
If your idea of roller derby is women skating around in circles and beating each other up, you are in need of an update! In fact – it is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, not to mention in Sweden.
Modern-day roller derby has grown and developed dramatically since its revival in the early 2000s into a genuine athletic sport with well-defined rules. The classic roller derby was invented in the 1930s and it was played as a legitimate sport, but by the 1960s theatricality and spectacle had taken over and scripted bouts with predetermined outcomes were common, much like in pro wrestling. This development led to the demise of the sport in early 1970s. It wasn’t until the grassroots revival of the sport in the early years of the 2000s that the current form really started making a mark. Some aspects of the entertainment value were retained, including the colourful uniforms and the campy player pseudonyms, but the athletic qualities of a full-on contact sport took over.
Roller derby is growing internationally and dominated by all-female amateur teams, with a very strong DIY ethic and often a feminist aesthetic.
The sport is organized under the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) and the first Roller Derby World Cup was arranged in 2011 in Canada with 13 countries competing, including Sweden who finished in sixth place. The second World Cup will be held in December this year, with an expected 30 countries participating.
Stockholm Roller Derby (STRD) is the oldest roller derby league in Scandinavia, founded in 2007. While the early years were a struggle in terms of slow recruitment and lack of practice venues, the 2009 movie Whip it! brought on a wave of interest and by 2010 they played their first bout against Helsinki. In 2011, STRD became apprentice members of the WFTDA, gaining full membership in December 2012. The Stockholm league boasts many members of Team Sweden and they are also the reigning Swedish champions.
YLC had the opportunity to attend Stockholm Roller Derby’s practice (scrimmage) on a late Sunday evening in Farsta, a Stockholm suburb. The roller girls who turned up for practice were from all of STRD’s three teams, the Allstars, the BSTRDs and the latest addition Gonna-Bes. They all really played impressively hard considering it was practice against their own team mates.
The A-team seemed to be in especially good form, including names like Swede Hurt, Mad Malooney, Lil Slinky, Red E Krueger and Mount NeveRest.
Scrimmage means practicing in the same format as matches are played. Two teams of five members skate counterclockwise on a circuit track. Each team designates a scoring player, the “jammer”, while the other four members are “blockers”. The “bout” consists of “jams”, plays that last up to two minutes. During a jam, points are scored when a jammer laps members of the opposing team. Blockers use body contact, changing positions and tactics to assist their own jammer to score while hindering the opposing team’s jammer.
The Stockholm league also has international members, including Evil Liza who had just moved from Canada two weeks prior to the practice and was already training with the team. She has played roller derby for three years and told YLC she felt her old team had become like a family to her. She said she was missing them, but hoping to gain a new family in Stockholm through the sport. There really seems to be a strong sense of community among the derby girls and a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere.
When we met up, the Stockholm team were preparing for a historical bout against an American team, the Rocky Mountain Roller Girls from Denver, held on the 19th of April.
“I went to a conference in the US with lots of people from different WFTDA leagues and heard from a Rocky Mountain player they would be playing London and were looking to combine that with something else. So I basically suggested they come over to Stockholm as well” STRD star player Swede Hurt told YLC.
Stockholm Roller Derby is providing Rocky Mountain with a venue to hold a Boot Camp for roller derby players, referees and officials. In exchange they get the chance to play a bout against one of the top teams in the world.
“It’s going to be a great match! It just really hit me that this is the first time an American team is playing in Sweden. That’s kind of a big deal!”
Rocky Mountain is currently ranked number 9 in the world, while STRD is at 123 in the WFTDA ranking. Despite this the STRD are one of the top teams in Europe and the European teams are most likely under-ranked in the official ranking, since they have not played against American teams so much as of yet.
“In early May we are also going to Florida for a tournament, where we will meet several very good teams ranked around positions 20 to 30. It feels like we may be in way over our heads, but it’s going to be a great experience,” said Swede Hurt.
She hopes that playing these international matches will give the team and the sport a higher status at home and help them with their every-day problem of getting training times. Currently the team has to train at different locations around Stockholm and at less-than-ideal times.
“Like this is exactly what I would like to be doing at 10pm on a Sunday night”, she says with a wink after practice.