Returning to our series on the 11 teams new to the Roller Derby World Cup 2018 in Manchester, and we're staying in Europe for this one.
Poland, despite having one of the largest populations in Central Europe, has only recently developed a significant Roller Derby population. We talked to one of Team Poland's organisers, Ewa Kaczyńska, about the formation of the National Team.
The Polish Flag (standing in for Team Poland's logo)
With Roller Derby having only come to Poland in 2013 - the first league in Poznań quickly followed by Warsaw, then Wrocław, Szczecin and Gdańsk - there was little possibility to compete in the 2014 World Cup. Since then, Polish Derby has grown considerably, to the point of holding their first Derby Sevens tournament this year, as well as hosting one of Scald Eagle & Lady Trample's WinTourOpe bootcamp dates. Whilst not all the leagues are huge at the moment (there's a preference for mixed team events and scrims to cover the numbers for the smaller teams), Polish derby is still growing and in a strong position in the Central European vanguard.
As is often the case, inline skating is more popular in Poland than Quads, although, Ewa notes: "[interest in quad skates] is growing, here is a better access to quads in shops. However, not that much luck with roller derby related skate shops, as there are just 3 or 4 with limited offerings." It's perhaps the growth of Chicks in Bowls, which also has a Polish branch, which is helping to drive this interest, helping out Roller derby with the cross-over, as it does elsewhere. "Yes, they definitely [help]. It's good that girls are taking over the skateparks!"
For more derby related help, the community surrounding has been supportive, with bootcamps and shared bouts popular.
"Thanks to skaters from all over the World we are able to organize bootcamps led by experienced coaches," Ewa told us. "That is so much different from learning from the book - as we did at first! 'Roller Derby 101: The Fresh Meat Training Manual ' was our first derby bible... Now, we get a lot of help and support from Czech and German teams - I guess it's just the thing with neighbours! We also get lots of help from Polish (and other) skaters from all over the World."
As the intent to participate applications opened for the 2018 World Cup, Poland were actually the last team to sign up, as Ewa notes: "There’s been a discussion about founding Polish National Roller Derby Team going on since November 2016 in Poland. [...]No decisions were made until the very last moment before the registration period ended. We formed a Founding Committee and acted! I think [the decision] was just about not letting people miss the opportunity to represent Poland."
Ewa also had personal reasons for pushing for the decision to commit, "I believe that sometimes people need to be pushed a bit. Sometimes no decisions are made simply because of the lack of courage, or ability to take responsibility for one's actions. I started derby three years ago and I started it to compete later on.
At first I thought that Polish skaters are not yet ready to compete on such level as World Cup. Since last November, we had numerous discussions with more experienced skaters. We got a lot of encouragement and support and then it suddenly became clear to us: things like forming a National Team need to be done to push things further, to make teams grow, to create opportunities for development. We cannot just sit doing nothing!"
Despite the last-minute decision, Poland's size and population have immediately produced results, with more than 50 skaters registered to try out or otherwise be involved, with around 50% from the existing Polish teams, and the rest from across the World. Poland has many nationals, and descendants of nationals, spread across the world - in Europe and in the USA - and many of them feel just as much pride for their country as those who live there.
"After we decided to found Team Poland we got a massive response from other parts of the World, which is just amazing; [...] it is truly touching when we get messages from people that 'want to do it for their Grandpa', although we would [also] love Team Poland to have lots of Polish girls living in Poland!"
As for all National Teams, and especially the newer ones, Team Poland are driven by more than simply patriotism. With National teams comes the chance of better visibility for Roller Derby as well - and a chance to combat myths and prejudice. "What really pushed us to form TP is a bigger picture," explains Ewa. "We know that all the teams went the same way at the beginning: rented vintage skates, no proper protection, no coaches, no places to skate. Also most of people think about roller derby as of 'rugby on quads' or an aggressive sport for punk girls with piercings and tattoos.
Surely, we do have them, but taking a part in such a big event could be an eye opener for people here! We would love them to acknowledge this sport as an athletic discipline, not only for 'outcasts'..."
And part of growing that athletic image is, of course, better training. As we discussed with Team Austria, the advantage of National Teams is also in the sharing of experience and skills, and Ewa agrees. "We all think that apart from World Cup, the following months will let us all benefit from the joined training sessions.
It is a big step for Polish roller derby, that's for sure!"
There is no Team Poland website or Facebook page yet - interested people should email the team at team.Poland.email@example.com or message Ewa Kaczyńska on Facebook.