While the sport has its origins in the banked-track roller-skating marathons of the 1930s, Leo Seltzer and Damon Runyon are credited with evolving the sport to its competitive form. Professional roller derby quickly became popular; in 1940, more than 5 million spectators watched in about 50 American cities. In the ensuing decades, however, it predominantly became a form of sports entertainment, where theatrical elements overshadowed athleticism. Gratuitous showmanship largely ended with the sport's grassroots revival in the first decade of the 21st century. Although roller derby retains some sports entertainment qualities such as player pseudonyms and colorful uniforms, it has abandoned scripted bouts with predetermined winners.
Modern roller derby is an international sport, mostly played by amateurs. It was under consideration as a roller sport for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Fédération Internationale de Roller Sports (FIRS), recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the official international governing body of roller sports, released its first set of Roller Derby Rules for the World Roller Games, organised by World Skate, that took place September 2017 in Nanjing, China. Most modern leagues (and their back-office volunteers) share a strong "do-it-yourself" ethic that combines athleticism with the styles of punk and camp. As of 2020[update], the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) had 451 full member leagues and 46 apprentice leagues and the Roller Derby Coalition of Leagues (RDCL) supporting women's banked track roller derby had eight full member leagues.
Contemporary roller derby has a basic set of rules, with variations reflecting the interests of a governing body's member leagues. The summary below is based on the rules of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). In March 2010, Derby News Network said that more than 98% of roller derby competitions were conducted under WFTDA rules. For example, members of the United Kingdom Roller Derby Association are required to play by WFTDA rules, while members of the former Canadian Women's Roller Derby Association were encouraged to join the WFTDA.
The growing popularity of roller skating in the United States led to the formation of organized multi-day endurance races for cash prizes as early as the mid-1880s. Speed and endurance races continued to be held on both flat and banked tracks in the century's first three decades and spectators enjoyed the spills and falls of the skaters. The term derby was used to refer to such races by 1922.[note 3]
1989 saw the debut of RollerGames, an even more theatrical variant of roller derby for national audiences. It used a figure-8 track and rules adapted for this track. Bill Griffiths, Sr. served as commissioner while his son, Bill Griffiths, Jr., managed the L.A. T-Birds, who (according to the storyline) were seeking revenge on the Violators (led by Skull) for cheating in the Commissioner's Cup. The other teams included the Maniacs (led by Guru Drew), Bad Attitude (led by Ms. Georgia Hase), the Rockers (led by DJ Terringo and consisting of skaters who were also professional rock and roll musicians), and Hot Flash (led by Juan Valdez Lopez). It ran one season, because some of its syndicators went bankrupt.
Many roller derby leagues are amateur, self-organized and all-female and were formed in a do-it-yourself spirit by relatively new enthusiasts. In many leagues (especially in the U.S.), a punk aesthetic and/or third-wave feminist ethic is prominent. Members of fledgling leagues often practice and strategize together, regardless of team affiliation, between bouts. Most compete on flat tracks, though several leagues skate on banked tracks, with more in the planning stages.
Each league typically features local teams in public bouts that are popular with a diverse fan base. Some venues host audiences ranging up to 7,000. Successful local leagues have formed traveling teams comprising the league's best players to compete with comparable teams from other cities and regions. In February 2012, the International Olympic Committee considered roller derby, amongst eight other sports, for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games.
In 2009, the feature film Whip It featured roller derby and introduced a wider audience to the sport. The WFTDA encouraged leagues to coordinate with promotions during the film's release to increase awareness of the leagues. Furthermore, corporate advertising has used roller derby themes in television commercials for insurance, a breakfast cereal, and an over-the-counter analgesic.
Most players in roller leagues skate under pseudonyms, also called "derby names" or "skater names". These typically use word play with satirical, mock-violent or sexual puns, alliteration, and allusions to pop culture. Referees often use derby names as well, often shown on the backs of their striped uniforms. Some players claim their names represent alter egos that they adopt while skating.
Although the early 2000s revival of roller derby was initially all-female, some leagues later introduced all-male teams and all-gender games; as of May 2013[update] there were over 140 junior roller derby programs in the United States, and many more around the world.
College roller derby is also expanding in the United States. The University of Arizona's Derby Cats describe themselves as the first-ever official college flat-track roller derby team. The first intercollegiate derby bout took place on March 3, 2018, when the Claremont Colleges roller derby team defeated Arizona State University.
The largest governing body for the sport is the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), with 397 full member leagues and 48 apprentice leagues. WFTDA membership is a major goal of aspiring leagues. Other associations support either coed or men-only derby; the largest organization supporting male roller derby is the Men's Roller Derby Association (MRDA). Within the United States, the Junior Roller Derby Association governs play by those under 18. It modifies the WFTDA rules for minors, such as prohibiting hitting and accelerating into a block. Some U.S. leagues decline affiliation with a national organization because they prefer local governance.
USA Roller Sports (USARS) is recognized by the International Roller Sports Federation (FIRS) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) as the National Governing Body of competitive roller sports in the United States, including speed, figure, hockey, roller derby and slalom. WFTDA and USARS maintain a reciprocity agreement for insurance purposes.
Outside the United States, many roller derby leagues enjoy support from their national skate federations, such as Skate Australia, the British Roller Sports Federation, and Roller Sports Canada. In Europe, roller derby was recognized as a sport in Paris in 2010 by the Federation Internationale de Roller Sports (FIRS), which reports directly to the International Olympic Committee. As of 2017, FIRS has been accepted as the international rule set by the International Olympic Committee. Teams competed under the FIRS rules at the 2017 Nanjing Games. The former Canadian Women's Roller Derby Association worked with the American federation.
Zaina Arafat said in the Virginia Quarterly Review that roller derby defies heteronormativity and patriarchal standards. In Egypt, Arafat says, there are expectations that a woman will not show visible scars, will have an unblemished body for her husband, and will refrain from activities that may damage her body. She says roller derby in Egypt is subversive, as it acts as an indirect political statement.
Author Carly Giesler said that skaters enact sexualities that create or reclaim an identity, and their role parodies "hegemonic scripts of sexuality" through the use of costumes, derby names and personas. Roller derby acts as a unique stage for female athletes, letting them rebut constraints society places on women and female athletes. Giesler said that female sports objectifies them for the male gaze, but roller derby turns this on its head by disregarding gender roles and norms.
Social media blast (1 per bout), Logo on website, full page ad in program, 2 season passes, banner displayed at bouts--displayed over penalty box, logo on scoreboard, logo on one float--or otherwise prominently featured at league event.
The first skating duo to complete the 3,000 mile journey won the roller derby. Corrisse Martin and Benjamin McKay won the first TRD in Chicago. Roller Derby clearly a success, Seltzer took his spectacle on the road.[iv]
Officials are an essential part of roller derby. There are usually 7 skating referees at a derby bout, and 10 non skating officials (NSO): jam timers, penalty box timers, lineup trackers, scoreboard operators and so forth.
The sport of roller derby dates back to the mid-1930s when Leo Seltzer formed a touring company of teams playing an early form of the high contact sport on roller skates. Throughout most of the 20th century it was a predominantly male sport, but in the early 2000s several all-female, local leagues began to develop in different parts of the U.S. These leagues often had a strong punk or rockabilly aesthetic both in the rink and in the stands, and emphasized a feminist, queer, empowering atmosphere. Enthusiasm for the sport increased rapidly, with 2,000 leagues sprouting up worldwide. The sport gained popularity with the 2009 release of Whip It!, starring Ellen Page as a gifted skater new to the sport.