There is an outside chance that roller derby may make its Olympic debut in ten years’ time. But a lot needs to go right for it to be a realistic chance.
Rome has confirmed it would be submitting a bid to the International Olympic Committee to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the first city formally throw a hat into the five rings. What makes this relevant for the roller derby community is that the bid will try to take advantage of a new Olympic initiative that allows host cities to include “one or more additional events on the Olympic program for that edition of the Olympic Games.”
The Italians have made it known that should they be picked to host, they intend to include roller sports. This means maybe—just maybe—roller derby could be along for the ride, too.
But there are two major hurdles that need to be cleared first.
Roller skating disciplines, let alone roller derby itself, are not yet Olympic events. Skating came close last year, being one of eight candidate sports for inclusion for the 2020 Tokyo Games. But thanks to a new Olympic agenda that aims to bring major social and financial reforms to the movement, the IOC is now allowing non-Olympic sports to be featured at the Olympics at the request of a host city.
That’s good news for established skating sports, like speed skating, artistic skating, and rink and inline hockey. For roller derby, which is still pretty new to the world-sport scene, it’s a much more nebulous proposal.
FIRS, the recognized international governing body for competitive roller sports, and the body that would oversee any Olympic roller sports competitions, hasn’t yet established sanctioning guidelines or game rules for derby, which it (finally) recognized in 2011. If FIRS would like to see the mad whirl be a part of the Italians’ Olympic plans, there isn’t much time for it to put things together.
However, that is certainly being worked on. Starting in 2017, FIRS will consolidate the world championships of every sport under its charge into a bi-annual Olympics/X Games hybrid sort of event, which it is calling the Roller Games. (FIRS is using the competition as a potential springboard into proper Olympic recognition some time down the road.) It expects 4,500 athletes to take part—including nearly 1,000 male and female roller derby skaters and support personnel.
That’s a pretty high target for FIRS, and at first instinct, an unrealistic one.1 Still, if participation at the World Cup is any indication, there’s no shortage of derby players from around the world that would jump at the opportunity to get in some more playing time for their country.
Regardless, roller derby and roller sports being synonymous is not a certainty. If Rome winds up lighting the torch in 2024, how the IOC and FIRS would handle that is one big question mark.
That leads another major question. What are Italy’s chances of being awarded the games in the first place?
In short: Not good.
Italy hosted the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, and after spending nearly twice its initial budget, the country is still paying for it eight years later. Last time around, Rome began the bidding process for the 2020 Summer Olympics, but withdrew it after the government at the time realized that pressing forward would be irresponsible.
But Rome is trying again due to the reforms being proposed by the IOC, which promises more flexibility in using existing facilities and allowing events to take place in neighboring cities or countries to avoid exorbitant venue construction costs. This opens up the possibility that hosting might actually generate a profit, potentially reducing some of Italy’s outstanding debts.2
As one might imagine, not everyone in the Italian government is happy about the plan. However, there is someone in the area with powerful connections that thinks Rome going for the Olympics is a swell idea:
Pope Francis, the Argentinean renowned for being a keen sports fan, has reportedly already expressed his backing for the plans and wishes for events, potentially including archery and football, to be held within the Vatican itself.
(Can you imagine roller derby being being played in the Vatican? Lord have mercy!)
Given the situation in Italy, it probably would take divine intervention to see roller derby make it to the Olympics as early as 2024. Then again, other changes the IOC made to the Olympic Charter include requirements of host nations that athletes not be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation3 and a try at attaining gender equality, encouraging “the inclusion of mixed-gender team events.”
Equality among genders and orientations? Boys and girls on the same team? That’s roller derby, through and through.