A new year brings new impetus, with many people determined to get fitter and be more sociable. Sport can provide the opportunity for both, and for men the traditional testosterone-filled haunts of the gym and five-a-side football pitches provide a natural calling. But for women, getting into sport is perhaps more difficult.
According to the Northern Ireland Sport and Physical Activity Survey 2010, only 41% of women had participated in sport in the last 12 months, compared to 54% of men. In addition, the amount of time men participate in at least moderate intensity sport activities is almost double that for women: 59 minutes per week for women, compared to 116 minutes for men.
So, where to go? What to do? There aren't many camogie or netball teams around these days, but one sport could be about to change those statistics. It’s called roller derby.
Although it goes back to the 1920s, modern roller derby’s roots can be found in Austin, Texas in the early 2000s. Quickly it spread across the USA and by 2004 the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, roller derby’s governing body, was formed. It now boasts 133 full member leagues.
Roller derby arrived on this side of the Atlantic in 2006, and in 2009 Dublin became the first team established in Ireland, with Belfast Roller Derby hot on its heels in 2010.
The basic dynamics of the sport are simple. Roller derby takes place on a flat circular track. There are two teams of five skaters, made up of four ‘blockers’ and one ‘jammer’ each. The jammer is the only skater that can score points.
Before a jammer can score any points, however, they have to make their way through the ‘pack’ of blockers and do a complete circuit. After this they receive a point for every subsequent opposition skater they pass. This sequence is played out in two minute ‘jams’ that make up an hour long ‘bout’.
Key to roller derby’s success has been its identity as a new, uniquely female sport and the sense of ownership and community for the players. Belfast rollergirl Lil’ Miss Guttersnipe (players often go by aliases) describes roller derby as a 'family'. Attempting to explain its appeal, she added, 'There’s nothing out there for women that can give you the support and the fitness that roller derby can.'
Founding Belfast member, Hannahbolic Steroids, puts roller derby’s success down to its inclusiveness. 'Everyone tends to be very supportive,' she says. 'From the different body types you see at practice, anybody can honestly give it a go.'
Belfast Roller Derby has made huge strides in a short time, holding its first intra-league bout in November 2011 to great success, and in 2012 its first inter-league fixtures beckon against Dublin and Cardiff.
If roller derby sounds like the sport for you, Belfast Roller Derby is holding an open invitation for new recruits at the Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey on Saturday, January 21 from 6 – 9pm. You must be 18 or over to take part and equipment is provided on the night. Visit the website below for more information.
Photograph courtesy of Tim Burrows.