Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Roller derby hits Cairo

After sweeping through America and Europe, the world’s fastest-growing women’s sport has been brought to Egypt by CaiRollers, reports Omneya Yousry

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Have you got challenges in your sports league? Is finding practice space really hard? Are shipping costs for gear getting you down because there’s no decent store in town? These challenges are nothing next to what the CaiRollers face, Egypt’s first women’s roller derby league team.

Roller derby is a contact sport played on roller skates. It started in America in the 1930s and 40s and resurged in Texas in 2001.The growing popularity of roller-skating in the United States led to the formation of organised, multi-day endurance races for cash prizes as early as the 1880s. Today, the sport has gone global and is popular in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and now, with the Egyptian team, the Middle East.

“We are a group of 22 skaters, five referees and lots of volunteers. At the moment we have two intra-league teams, Killa Patras and Isis Crisis,” says Angie Marie, co-founder of the CaiRollers.

The objectives of a roller derby are relatively simple, she explains. Each team fields a single point-scoring skater, called a “jammer,” whose object is to lap as many opposing skaters as she can. The remaining skaters who aren’t scoring points work both on offence and defence at the same time to block the opposing jammer and to clear a path for their own.

“Then the jammer starts making her way through the pack. When the first jammer makes it through without penalties, she is called the ‘lead jammer’ and can start scoring points on each pass. Each ‘jam’ lasts two minutes, with a 30-second break in between. There are two 30-minute periods of two-minute jams,” Marie explains.

Taking the initiative to build an Egyptian team wasn’t easy and took a year to mull over. “However, once we had made the decision to start a roller derby team in Egypt, we had a month to recruit before the summer break. It was crucial to get it kicked off before summer because many of us are teachers and travel over the summer,” Marie says.

“The team was built initially by two professional roller girls from America and the United Kingdom. We started practicing in September 2012, and now we are two years old,” adds Ayatallah Youssef, 25, a roller derby player.

 “Gear is currently our biggest obstacle, which reflects funding problems. We are working on a way to import gear, but until then we purchase it abroad. We use travel weekends and holidays to bring back gear to Egypt. But our last match was in June 2014, and we are badly in need of a sponsor.”

 In lieu of funds from sponsors, the CaiRollers team decided to support themselves by holding events. “Biker Zone was our last event. We took a booth in the Tagamo building earlier this month and sold accessories, T-shirts and bags with the CaiRollers logo on them. All of the pieces are handmade by the team, and they allocate a percentage of the revenue to support CaiRollers,” Youssef continued.

“Other than that, we are also planning to arrange open practices on a regular basis at fees of just LE10 to LE15.”

Being a start-up sport, recruiting new members can be a challenge. Many people think that if they don’t know how to roller skate, they can’t join, something that is far from true.

“We welcome all skill levels [and those] over 18 years old, and we provide training on how to skate,” Youssef comments. “We also hold an open practice every now and then for those who are interested in trying before they make a commitment. All the skaters are women, but the coaches, sponsors and non-skating officials can be men.”

Youssef added, “For me, the roller derby has turned my life around. I’d been dreaming of the chance to play a sport, but I found that I was too old for many of them. That’s when I found out about roller derby, which inspired me and showed me a hidden energetic girl inside me.”

Anybody can support CaiRollers, she adds, by sponsoring skates or equipment. It is also possible to donate to support the league’s development, and the group can be easily reached through its Facebook page.

When well played, roller derby requires agility, strength, speed, control, good peripheral vision, communication and teamwork. But anyone wanting to play also needs a start-up kit that includes quad roller-skates, a helmet, a mouth-guard and elbow, wrist and knee pads. This will set them back some $300.

Potential roller derby players also have to commit to one to two days of practice a week and to help in developing the league by committing from two to four hours a month to a committee of their choice, including public relations, training, sponsorship, venues, financial, technology, creative and more.

CaiRollers are dreaming big. As the sole roller derby team in Egypt, they do not want to simply keep on practicing but also want to turn the derby into a legitimate sport. “We want to grow a league of skate teams in Cairo. Logistically, that means 60 to 70 skaters, venues, positive publicity and lots of shoving and hitting,” Youssef said.

“When we hold a match at the moment, we usually divide our own team into two. We need to invite international teams to play matches in Egypt. We contact teams abroad and they respond positively, but of course they need flight tickets and accommodation to be able to come.

“We are also looking for an international coach. This doesn’t happen at the moment unless one could come for a visit and join us for our Saturday and Tuesday practices,” she said.

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