Roller Derby’s Comeback Plan Viewed as Prototype

19 Jul, 2020

By: Michael Popke

Whereas social media teems with virologist wannabes ready to spout COVID theories, one organization actually has its own (real) in-house experts – and they’ve formulated a return-to-play plan that could serve as a prototype (and kick the wannabes to the curb in the process).

A 26-page document issued by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association — the international governing body for roller derby — is being held up as a model for how all sports should return. The “Return-To-Derby Ladder” establishes seven data-based benchmarks, and each one must be met before any derby league can move on to the next rung.

Prior to any of the association’s 450 roller derby leagues around the world beginning to climb the “ladder,” they must wait until all local stay-at-home orders have been lifted, gatherings of 50 or more people are allowed in their locale and there are no more than five positive cases per 10,000 people over a 14-day period in their designated area. The rungs range from “league return with no contact” (leagues are allowed to meet in small groups for any non-contact activities) all the way up to “return to full-scale events with spectators” (which, the WFTDA admits, won’t happen for awhile).

“While we agree that some leagues may be ready to attempt a return, exposing non-participants to potential risk of infection for the benefit of our sport is not acceptable,” the WFTDA notes in its document. “Until there are tangible interventions, including vaccines, meaningful therapeutics, widespread testing of cases and/or antibodies, community immunity or other factors making audiences ethically viable, we do not recommend your league welcome in-person audiences at this time.”

The WFTDA “has created a comprehensive, science-based COVID-19 plan that focuses on keeping every single athlete, official and fan safe. And it blows every other plan in sports completely out of the water,” proclaims Yahoo! Sports.

“The roller derby guidelines put community and player health ahead of the need to keep the game going for the sake of eager fans,” praises “Meanwhile, in other sports, efforts to resume play continue even as cases turn up among players, and COVID-19 numbers are rising in the very areas where events are meant to be held. By taking local infection dynamics into account, the roller derby guidelines could end up serving as a template for how other leagues — including those for recreational, youth, and high school sports — could safely come back.”

“Leave it to a women’s sports organization to put together a quite reasonable return plan,” Emory University epidemiologist Zachary Binney told

WFTDA officials say representatives from sports organization as diverse as the Cleveland Youth Catholic Association and the Edinburgh Racqueteers badminton club in Scotland have requested the document since it was released in late May.

“The plan came out of the need to create something that just didn’t exist. We wanted to be fair, but we also wanted to set a very important standard, which was safety first,” Erica Vanstone, WFTDA’s executive director told, adding that the strategy also includes advice on when to slow things down. “Let’s say a league steps back on the track, and then infections go up. We wanted a system set up so they know what to do in those instances.”

What they should do, according to the document, is wait at least 14 days and try again.

“Roller derby is very much about equity and creating a safe and welcoming environment,” Vanstone continued. “It’s not worth putting people at risk just so folks can hit each other on roller skates.”

The WFTDA’s plan, Yahoo! Sports reports, “was created by more than two dozen experts who are also derby athletes, including Mikaela Kosich, a biostatistician whose derby name is Bubble Wrath, Nikki McCorristin, an infection control nurse who goes by Trauma, and Bobbiejean Garcia, an epidemiologist who goes by BG Smack.”


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