Pandemic 2020 has been a challenge for flat-track roller derby, and all forms of roller derby, as anyone following sport this year might well expect. Few competitive events have returned. But that doesn’t mean that roller derby, and especially the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association (WFTDA) has been inactive. In fact, roller derby has emerged as a COVID-era leader in sport, using this period of time on hiatus to make plans for a safe return to play for its 450 member leagues and to continue its organizational efforts toward anti-racism and diversity and inclusion.
WFTDA’s seven-tier model for “return-to-play” plan has gotten some mainstream attention, including in a recent feature in Wired magazine. The plan is based on “specific and data-based benchmarks, for its grounding in science and ‘basic infection-control principles.’” By mid-summer, WFTDA had shared the document more than 700 times, with organizations from an Edinburgh badminton team and a Catholic youth organization in Cleveland to Canada Basketball and the Tasmanian state government.
The tier-based model WFTDA developed allows for its member-leagues to step forward and back down from one tier to another and offers guidelines not just for players but for “officials, photographers, announcers, and other volunteers,” as well as spectators. I can think of a few sports that might have benefited from this sort of model or thinking in 2020.
Characteristic of roller derby’s pandemic year is also its use of time on pause-from-play to develop new anti-racism resources and an expanded its diversity and inclusion statement and gender statement.
Perhaps WFTDA’s and roller derby’s work this year might be best summed up with its advertised mask that reads “Lives Before Laces”. Competitions have been taking place in New Zealand in late 2020 and in other places in which the virus is under better control through public health measures. For those of us in the United States, reaching the top of the seven tiers seems months, and perhaps many months, away.
So here’s my prediction and provocation. Having achieved all of this over the past pandemic year, roller derby in 2021 starts getting serious, regular coverage by sports journalists, which has long been overdue. That coverage will consider not only its rankings, championships, local team play, and amazing individual athletes but will also give the sport credit for its remarkable visions for the future of health, social justice, and athletic competition.
Devoney Looser is Foundation Professor of English at Arizona State University. She is the author or editor of nine books on literature by women, a Guggenheim Fellow, and an NEH Public Scholar. Her book, The Making of Jane Austen (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), was named a Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book (Nonfiction). Her most recent book is The Daily Jane Austen: A Year of Quotes (University of Chicago Press, 2019).
Although no one could have predicted all that 2020 has been, what lessons will the world of sport take into next year?
We asked some of the best and brightest minds to contribute their thoughts.