There was an exciting and long-awaited announcement on January 19th. The list of WFTDA’s latest batch of apprentice leagues was released to the world, and in amongst the 25 teams – between the Beach Brawl SK8R Dolls of Fort Walton, Florida and the Capital City Crushers of Topeka, Kansas – was the name “Brighton Rockers Roller Derby”. It’s no secret that Brighton have been hoping for a while to be accepted onto the WFTDA Apprentice Program. Here at BRATS we had a sneaky feeling it was imminent when a random crawl of the internet in early December revealed the Rockers had formed a limited by guarantee company on 27/11/14. Although initially concerned by the Coventry address (was the Rockers franchise moving to the West Midlands?) this turned out to be that of the processing solicitor. Being an entity such as this is an essential stepping stone towards joining WFTDA. It was on!
So who are WFTDA? Their mission statement tells us they were “founded in 2005” to “promote and foster the sport of women’s flat track roller derby by facilitating the development of athletic ability, sportswomanship and goodwill among members leagues. The governing philosophy of the WFTDA is ‘by the skaters, for the skaters’. Female skaters are primary owners, managers, and/or operators of each member league and of the association. Operational tasks include setting standards for rules, seasons and safety, and determining guidelines for the national and international athletic competitions of member leagues. All WFTDA member leagues have a voice in the decision-making process, and agree to comply with the governing body’s policies.”
In less wordy terms, they’re the equivalent of football’s FIFA for women’s roller derby. They govern the sport worldwide, organising major ranking tournaments, setting Minimum Skills requirements and issuing the ever-changing rulebook which every league (even non-members) plays by. Well, that’s not 100% true. There are a few rival organisations (USARS, MADE and others) but WFTDA dominates a good 95% of the women’s game worldwide. Not unnaturally, given the sport’s origins, it’s very much an American organisation. Of the current 301 full member leagues, a whopping 238 (79%) are from the USA. There are 16 from the UK, just ahead of Canada (15) with others from Australia (9), Germany (4), France and Japan (both 3), Belgium, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and Norway (all 2), plus single leagues from Denmark, Ireland and Colombia. Please note: We worked this out by counting tiny flags on their website whilst a bit drunk, so we’ve almost certainly miscounted some of it.
Whilst that’s a decent enough global spread, a look at the 92 leagues currently in the Apprentice Program shows just how much that global spread is increasing as time progresses. There are 51 (55%) from the USA, joined by eight from Canada, five from Oz, and four each from Sweden and France. Belgium, Germany and the UK have three apiece, Brazil two, and there are single leagues from Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Finland, Chile, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and Puerto Rico. Wowsers! So how long does the apprentice process last? Well, there is one league who was accepted into it in Nov 2009 who have yet to graduate to full membership, but generally speaking a year or so is the norm. The Brighton Rockers join Birmingham Blitz Dames (Oct 2014) and this month’s British Champs opponents Seaside Sirens (Oct 2013) as current UK apprentices. But that’s enough about numbers and dates – let’s hear from one of the key figures behind Brighton’s WFTDA application…
How long (and through what processes) has it taken for you to get to the stage of being accepted as an apprentice league?
It has taken us ages to get our application in to join the WFTDA Apprentice Program. It’s a rigorous application process and we soon realised that we needed a better organisational structure before we could join. Like most derby leagues, we suddenly came into being and made it all up as we went along. Having to explain how we run the league made us examine it more ourselves and change things. The result is we are now a not-for-profit company, with a sound and sustainable structure, that is accountable to its members. So, although it’s been a slow process for the Rockers, we’ve already benefited from our application. Once we made sure our league was set up in line with the principles of WFTDA as an organisation, we needed to write essays, provide stats from bouts we’ve hosted, plus a lot of paperwork… It’s a hell of a thing!
Why did you decide you wanted to become a WFTDA league?
We decided to join WFTDA as we had a couple of leagues refuse to play us as we weren’t members. We have always been a highly competitive league and wanted to be able to play those teams, as well as hoping that one day we’d be successful enough to play in the big WFTDA European tournaments. It seemed liked the natural direction for Brighton, although the benefits to the league so far have been off the track.
What happens next?
We only just found out last month that we had been accepted into the apprentice scheme, so it’s early days. We’ll keep you posted on our progress over the months ahead.
You can catch the UK’s newest WFTDA apprentice league in action this Saturday (7th Feb) at the Dolphin Leisure Centre in Haywards Heath. As a warm up for this year’s British Championships campaign, the mighty Brighton Rockers will be taking on Team Dragon, a mixed league challenge side that includes players with World Cup experience from Teams England, Spain and Belgium. There will also be a mixed opener, featuring upcoming skaters – most of whom have never played in public before – from several derby leagues including Brighton, Eastbourne, Portsmouth, Croydon, LRR, Kent and many more. Doors are at 2pm, with the first game at 3pm. Tickets are selling very fast – this is going to be the biggest Rockers crowd in quite a while – and priced £10 for adults, £8 students, free for under-12s, with a special 4-for-3 deal. Get yours from the ticket link below. We’ll have a full preview of this exciting event on this website very soon.
[Photos by John Hesse]