Roller derby, a sport contact game in which two teams skate around a oval skate rink, was created in Great Britain at the end of the 19th century, but it was popularized in the USA, which is now considered the cradle of this entertaining sport.
Roller derby originated from roller skating races, which started being held in the USA in 1880s. The first roller skating races were notable for fast runs and heavy falls, which entertained the spectators. They were called endurance races, in which competitors were expected to endure as much as they could skating in skating rinks to win money prizes. The term derby was used in this context in the first half of 1920s, to describe an event in which several multi-day races were held.
During the Great Depression, an American promoter named Leo Seltzer started organizing road races of two-person skating teams. As the economic situation was deteriorating, more and more people wanted to take part in these events, hoping they would earn some money in that difficult period. In the second half of the 1930s, Seltzer made some changes in rules to attract more audience to his shows, the main changes being that the number of team members was increased to five and that rougher skater contacts were allowed. Points were won when members of one team lapped their rivals. He also established a touring company and started organizing tours throughout the USA.
In the second half of 1940s, the roller derby events started being broadcast on television, which increased its popularity and the number of people attending the live shows. Seltzer even founded the National Roller Derby League (NRDL) in 1949. It was made of six teams. However, in the 1960s the number of visitors decreased and in 1973, because of gas shortages and declining audience, Leo Seltzer’s son, Jerry Seltzer, who was in charge of Roller Derby League then, decided to shut it down. There were some minor leagues and events in the 1970s and 1980s but they weren’t even close to the popularity it had in the 1940s and 1950s.
Roller derby grew to prominence again at the beginning of 2000s. The place of its revival was Austin, in Texas, and the interesting fact is that it was reestablished mainly as a female sport. Another important fact is that roller derby is revived as an amateur sport, where you can find members of various social groups taking part in roller derby leagues, which adds to the sense of equality on which it is based at the moment. By mid-2000s, there were more than 100 leagues in the USA, when many leagues outside the USA started forming. There are more than 1,000 leagues worldwide and the number is still growing.
Due to the modern age and its norms, many leagues use punk and feminist iconography and most players don’t use their real names, so that this game is somewhere between a sport and a means of entertainment. However, the International Olympic Committee announced at the beginning of 2012 that roller derby is being considered for inclusion into 2020 Olympic Games.