Saturday, January 19, 2013

The curious case of co-ed derby

Most roller derby skaters in the world today are female.  In the UK, for example, there are 97 bouting travel teams, of which 8 are men's teams.  Thus, the men's game is often just a side note to the larger scale of the women's game, especially in the common "look what women are doing to keep fit and empower themselves" story often found in mainstream media.

Often, men's teams are founded as a sort of "brother" team to established women's leagues, comprising the referees, coaches, NSOs, and fans who would have joined had it not been for a pesky Y-chromosome.  However, there are a few cases where the relationship is a bit closer than just "brother-sister."  How, then, does co-ed derby get on?

Firstly, it's important to define a co-ed league.  There are a few points of possible integration:
  1. Beginners'/Fresh Meat training
  2. Advanced/Travel Team training
  3. League Management/Board of Directors
  4. Resources/Venues/Human Resources
  5. Bout Scheduling
Not all leagues considering themselves co-ed will meet all criteria, and some leagues which do not consider themselves co-ed may actually meet several. The late Cardiff Roller Collective, for example, met #2, #4, and #5 to various degrees in concert with the South Wales Silures.

Manchester Roller Derby do consider themselves a co-ed league.  President Tori Bee states "It's a huge part of MRDs identity. We have always been coed, as part of our inclusive ethos. From the beginning MRD wanted to give men the opportunity to play roller derby."

She goes on to mention the difficulty of co-ed training, but emphasizes that the mix of styles that comes when male and female skaters work together.  "The boys bring the aggression n the girls bring the brain  
We also find the big size differential in training useful for practicing legal hits on low skaters, or how to use others' weight/ height against them for example."

To be fair, MRD meet #1, #3, #4, and #5.  Their travel teams no longer train together.  "Each team has one dedicated two hour session per week that's for the team only and we've non-team sessions that are always co-ed," says Gaz Jones, one of the more outspoken members of the men's team.  

Newcastle Roller Girls are, almost by definition, not co-ed.  After all, their name implies sex segregation.  However, NRG vice-skipper Gin & Sonic refers to their relationship with Tyne 'n' Fear as a brother-sister one with the following caveat: "Currently we’re ran as one league but the boys are  looking at becoming financially separate this year but we’ll still help each other out, scrimmage  and share officials/practice space/bouts/bench managers etc."

Thus, despite the nominal implications, the NRG/TnF machine actually meets #3, #4, and #5.  Thus, although NRG are a women's league, their affiliation is very, very close.

Close enough, in fact, to deny WFTDA affiliation to the Tyneside ladies.  "Currently we’re working on becoming financially separate from each other so NRG can apply for WFTDA apprenticeship which will hopefully happen midyear. NRG want to strive to be the most competitive team we can be and TnF have been really supportive in this. It is a shame we can’t apply before  but those are the rules ;). I Believe TnF do want to become MRDA affiliated in the future but they aren’t moving towards that yet."

Juliana Gonzales, press officer for the WFTDA, confirm's Gin & Sonic's understanding.  "WFTDA membership requires that your league be dedicated to women's flat track roller derby only, so all competitors in WFTDA leagues are women."  

As the requirements refer to competitors, MRD are eliminated from WFTDA eligibility on the basis of their ethos.  However, NRG have that option still available to them.  Ms. Gonzales goes on to state that "the membership requirements typically have to do with business structure and league governance."  Thus, a league must only fail to meet #3 above to be WFTDA-eligible.

Interestingly, the MRDA has no issue with membership for co-ed leagues.  After all, MRD hold MRDA affiliation.  The UKRDA, as well, seems to have no issue with co-ed leagues, as NRG are members.

The only issue is the big W, and if that affiliation is worth breaking up the official single-league setup.  "We've mused about being separate only on paper, but for me that just doesn't sit right for us." comments Ms. Bee.

Ms. Gonzales states "We definitely intend to continue working closely with MRDA to grow in a cooperative and parallel way.  I don't forsee us merging membership structures anytime soon, but never say never."

As teams and leagues improve, affiliation status becomes more important. As well, the growth of the men's game means that more and more leagues will be meeting at least a few of the five points, either on their own or in concert with an opposite-sex league across town. Thus, co-ed derby needs to find a place in officially-recognised derby.

Sure, compromises will have to be made in order for co-ed structures to enjoy official recognition. Shouldn't those compromises be made in the direction of allowing roller derby for more, rather than roller derby for fewer?

1 comment:

  1. I find it strange that you have a quote from WFTDA but not an organising body that is already inclusive & operating co-ed.
    The UKRDA is well on it's way to dealing with the co-ed issue & as a body are fully supportive & represent roller dery for men, women & juniors.

    It is my personal belief that organisations that are not inclusive, including the WFTDA, have the potential to seriously stifle the formalisation of international (flat track) roller derby. It is a massive hurdle & one that is being discussed by the various NGBs.

    There are countries that prohibit sports teams from discrimination, including "positive discrimination" based on gender. It seems unfair that a roller derby league who follows the laws of its country & operates co-ed cannot have their female travel tram join the WFTDA.