Roller derby team gears up for World Cup in Texas

Summary

A fast-paced sport that celebrates competitiveness, team spirit and humour, roller derby has attracted a large legion of players in Flanders in just a few years

 
Photo by Vinciane Piérart

Redeeming powers

Next week, more than 20 Belgians will find themselves battling on American soil, bruising various body parts as they fight for the title of roller derby world champion.

From 4 to 7 December, the city of Dallas, Texas, is hosting the sport’s second-ever World Cup. The inaugural Roller Derby World Cup was held in Canada in 2011 and hosted 13 countries. Three years later, roller derby skaters representing 30 countries from Brazil to Japan, Belgium to Australia, will converge to play in the tournament. The Belgian team launched a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the travel costs.

A fast-paced, hard-hitting sport played on roller skates, the all-female roller derby has enjoyed a revival over the last decade, including in Flanders, where the first local team, the Gent Go-Go Roller Girls, formed in 2009.

It has since been joined by eight more teams, which Team Belgium pooled its skaters from. In addition to three coaches from three teams, the 20-person charter includes six skaters from Gent, six from Antwerp, four from Brussels and Lilo & Stitches from Scotland.

Lilo & Stitches – her roller derby name – is Sasha De Buyl. Born in Brussels, she moved to Ireland at the age of five. She later headed to Scotland for college and started playing roller derby for the Auld Reekie Rollers. De Buyl is co-captain of the All Stars there but, because of the tournament’s passport regulations, will be skating for the land of her birth.

“My dad is totally delighted I am skating for Belgium and representing my roots,” says De Buyl, who is equally looking forward to the experience. “High-level tournament play is one of the best and most fun things about roller derby. Team Belgium is an amazing opportunity to play with the best of Belgium against the best of every other country involved.”

For De Buyl, the World Cup preparations have also been a welcome opportunity to spend more time in the country and to get to know the local skaters and leagues. “I have been to training in Belgium twice in the run-up to the World Cup, but each time I made a trip of a few extra days and coached local leagues,” she explains. “So I have had a chance to spend some extra time with Team Belgium skaters on each of those trips.”

No Mrs Nice Guy

De Buyl began skating on a whim. “I did some individual sports as a kid but have always been the most unco-ordinated human ever, so I never really excelled at anything.”

She says she was blown away by the positive impact playing a team sport can have. “The competitiveness and the striving for excellence combined with the reliance on other people and the drive to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts; I love it all. I also think that playing a sport is one of the most revolutionary and empowering things a woman can do.”

It doesn’t want you to be a nice, calm girl but a really intense, crazy athlete

- Co-captain Sasha De Buyl

Els Aerts from Ghent (also known as Sandra Buttblock) couldn’t agree more. Aerts is the co-captain of Team Belgium and is attracted to the sport for its competitiveness and “for the way it enables women to be strong and athletic while still fostering that smudge of humour,” she says. “How it doesn’t want you to be a nice, calm girl but instead a focused, really intense and crazy athlete.”

She knew she wanted to be the team captain as soon as she got involved. “When I tried out for Team Belgium, I immediately set this goal for myself: I want to make the team and even be their captain. I’m not good at doing stuff half-heartedly,” she explains. “I think it is an immense honour to be representing your country at a World Cup, and I wanted to be the captain because I want to be able to do anything possible to make this team as good as it possibly can be.”

And Team Belgium are good. They’ve been practising together for over a year now and have played against Team Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, boasting a 4-1 win-loss record.

Still, Aerts is matter of fact about their chances on the global stage. “Beating Team USA, our chances are next to zero,” she says. “But we do have a good chance to make it through round one to the winners’ bracket.”

They will also be up against Team Greece, which consists mostly of American expats, Team Italy and Team Australia in the first round. “Australia will be the toughest team to beat in our pool, but nothing is impossible when you are Team Belgium!” she says.

Everything after that is one big question mark. “Who will we meet on track? Team Finland? Team Scotland? One thing is certain: Team Belgium are a small but very resilient team, and we will always skate our hearts out to do as well as we possibly can,” Aerts says. 

4-7 December, Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, Dallas, Texas, USA

A fast-paced sport that celebrates competitiveness, team spirit and humour, roller derby has attracted a large legion of players in Flanders in just a few years.

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