What’s Derby?

History of Roller Derby

The origins of Roller Derby lie in the USA of the 1930s and 40s. It all began as a kind of six-day race, which soon turned into a show fight similar to wrestling. In the early 70s, however, Roller Derby disappeared in this form. Only in 1999 it was rediscovered, revived and the style and rules were radically revised. In 2004 the Women’s Flat Track Derby Associaton was founded. The establishment of this non-profit international sports association laid the foundation for the further development of Roller Derby. In 2005 20 flat track leagues participated in the very first meeting with the goal of developing the guiding principles and aspirations of the organization. In 2009 team Montreal Roller Derby joined the WFTDA as the first non-US team. The first European team that joined WFTDA in 2021 was Bear City Roller Derby from Berlin.

However, the sport became popular in Europe even before the first European team became an official WFTDA member. In 2006 the London Rollergirls were founded as the first European team. Already in 2009, the Zurich City Roller Girlz were founded. Find out more about our history here.

The WFTDA ranking takes place several times of the year. In order to be eligible for the ranking, teams have to play a minimum of two games in any given 12-month period.

Since 2006 the International WFTDA Championships take place every year in autumn. The top 28 teams in the world based on June 30 global rankings are eligible to compete in the Champs. The top 4 ranked teams will automatically receive an invitation while the next 24 ranked teams will compete in two Playoffs tournaments with the top three teams from each tournament receiving invitations to Champs – a total of 10 teams.

Not all Roller Derby teams are WFDA members but are still competing in games. To find non-WFTDA members we rely on the flattrackstats.

The game play

Roller derby is a full-contact sport played by two teams consisting of max. 15 players competing against each other on an oval field called ‘track’ in counter clockwise direction. A game (‘bout’) is divided in two halves of each 30 minutes game play. Each game consists of a series of short matchups (‘jams’) in which both teams field five members at one time: one jammer (the scoring player, indicated by a star on their helmet) and four blockers.
The blockers of both teams skate together in the pack. One blocker in is the pivot, marked by a stripe on the helmet. They can become a jammer by taking over the star helmet cover. The jammer’s task is to overlap the pack by fighting her way through the opponent’s blockers with the support of her own blockers. They try to prevent this by physical blocks. Legal body contact is limited to the hips, shoulders and the front body. There is a 30 seconds penalty e.g. for holding on, using ellbows, tripping, back blocks and skating outside the track.
No points are awarded in the first round of a jam – only the lead jammer status being assessed: Lead Jammer is the jammer who is the first to legally overlap all pack skaters. They have a tactical advantage, because they can stop the jam at any time by tapping on her hip (‘calling off the jam). This is preventing their opponent from collecting any points. After the first round (initial pass) both jammers get one point for each opponent blocker they overlap. The jam ends after the maximum of 2 minutes have elapsed or when the lead jammer calls off the jam. After a 30 second break the next jam starts. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.


Since it’s a full contact sport played on roller skates, the rule set is equally complex. You can find the roughly 80 pages document here in case you would like to learn more.
If you wish to play around with strategic movements, check out the URDUMP (the Ultimate Roller Derby Ubiquitous Magnet Board), written by Wonder Zebra, a member of Vienna Roller Derby.