Roller derby is a feministic team sport that originated in the US in the 1930s and is still quite unpopular in Russia. Which, however, is unsurprising. The essence of roller derby contradicts the customary role of a Russian woman–as a mother and housewife.
The roller derby woman is, above all, a fighter, and the game itself consists of fighting battles on roller skates. The game play consists of a series of short match-ups in which both teams designate a jammer who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The teams attempt to hinder the opposing jammer while assisting their own jammer. Interestingly, this sport seems to have a good chance to get into the Olympic program in 2020.
In Russia, the first and only roller derby team–White Night Furies–appeared in 2013 thanks to an enthusiast from St. Petersburg, Zhanna Yuryeva.
Moskver: Zhanna, please tell us how the idea came about and what kind of process it took to establish Russia’s first roller derby team?
Zhanna: It all began 2.5 years ago. There were two of us—Kate and me. The year before, Kate visited Iceland, where she learned about such a sport as roller derby from her friends. She was very encouraged by the idea of the game so she offered to try to popularize it here. I remember how scared I was at first. We watched a couple of youtube videos, and my reaction was: “How cruel! They seem to knead each other! No, no, no”. Then, eventually I was involved. However, when it came to the formation of the team, I did not understand where to start. After all, in order to collect members for even the smallest team, you need people to know about the sport, but roller derby was largely unknown.
At that very moment, I by chance saw an ad of a roller school in St. Pete, which said they wanted to create a roller derby team made up of women. Kate and I decided to join them. So the first few workouts we held in conjunction with this school. Then the school left the field, because suddenly they asked for money for classes, which is not welcome in this sport. So then we continued to conduct training ourselves. We’ve had three students at that time. Gradually we became bigger and we began to tell more about ourselves and about the sport in social networks and roller communities, and we started inviting people to join the team.
That was, as far as I understand, in 2013. What has changed since that time? In what has your humble team grown over the past two and a half years?
Zhanna: Today we have 19 team members, including 2 referees and 17 players. We’ve got a lot of people who know about the sport and support us. At the same time, we are much more popular outside of Russia.
We are now participating in competitions with level B and C teams, which are kind of home teams, twice a year. In general, we’d like to meet competitors more often–in Finland, for example, every town has its own roller derby team, with which we could easily meet for a game. But twice a year is what we can afford financially.
The next game in which we will participate will happen in February with a level C Finnish team. I think we will beat them.
The issue of considering a roller derby to be a feminist sport seems quite interesting. Does it really manifest as something like that?
Zhanna: Yes, it does manifest a woman’s freedom to control her own body, as she wants to, and her freedom to participate in the sport, which was created mostly for women, and which is managed mostly by women, and which consists mostly from women’s teams around the world. So–yes, this is a quite feministic sport, but also anti-discriminate.
Do I understand correctly that, in addition to games, the roller derby girls generally are united by the common idea of the struggle for the rights of women and sexual minorities?
Zhanna: I would say that the roller derby team–is, above all, a sports team, not a community of women fighting for their rights. But, yes, being itself a great sport, roller derby at the same time is a good support for girls who may feel discrimination on any grounds.
Got it. I was just curious to understand if the roller derby is still… let’s say, a niche sport.
Zhanna: No, it’s definitely not.
Do you think that it was just a coincidence that such a feministic sport was born especially in St. Petersburg, not Moscow, which seems to be considered more conservative in this regard?
Zhanna: I think it’s a pure coincidence.
And yet, how is that in a city as huge as Moscow, there are still many feminists and many roller derby athletes that still don’t have a team?
Zhanna: During these two and a half years of existence, we have been asking ourselves the same question. Once, we even tried to help our Moscow followers, (whom we have, by the way, quite a lot) to come together. However, unfortunately they do not have a leader who could guide the team.
Did you think about creating a nationwide team?
Zhanna: I did. Most likely, it will happen closer to 2020, when the roller derby, I hope, will enter the Olympic program.
Zhanna, you mentioned that payment for training is not provided in this sport. Does it mean that it is ideologically non-profit, or professional athletes and teams still can make money on the games somehow?
Zhanna: Those leagues and teams that are just beginning to exist, are obviously free to all. Their trainers are just non-paid enthusiasts. The only thing for which players pay is rental for the gym. Those leagues that have existed for a long time, and that have strong players, and that participated in world championships are likely to make money on the games, but in this case most of the earned money goes to the team fund.
We in particular are trying to support the existence and development of our team through the implementation of our merch (official paraphernalia – Ed.). We sell T-shirts, badges, stickers with our logo and thematic patterns, and these funds go toward rent of the training ground.
Have you applied for support to the Ministry of Sports or some other specialized agencies?
Zhanna: I would like to apply, but looking at the bureaucratic jungle that is needed to be torn through, and looking at what we’ll get as a result, I realized that the game isn’t worth it.
Well, with or without official support, we wish you the great victories! Thank you for the interview.