Open Government and For The Skater

As we have mentioned before, some of the more curious aspects of Roller Derby culture express themselves in the contradictions surrounding its founding DIY communitarian aspect.

Roller Derby styles itself as being a sport run by those who undertake it - "For The Skater, By The Skater" - although, in some senses, this is no different to a hundred other sports, where managers and bureaucrats at the higher levels of governing bodies are often ex players. (There is also the vexed issue of the elitism inherent in "For The Skater, By The Skater" itself excluding the numerous essential roles in Roller Derby culture which do not involve direct competition - referees and NSOs, announcers, coaches, managers, photographers, videographers, fans, writers, and so on.) Whilst this is clearly a communalist stance, it's interesting that Roller Derby culture has most often adopted organisational principles which exclude, or force into hierarchy, large sections of that very community. This is not, to some extent, "Roller Derby"'s fault. There are numerous examples of naïve, or less naïve, communalist cultures decaying to elitist, closed, opaque cultures - X, Y, Z. Cliques.

Ironically, enlightened democracies have been making the opposite journey over the last few hundred years; and perhaps catching up to some very much older models of communalist collaboration outside of the Western milieu (for example, several Native American cultures have engaged in consensus-democratic approaches for possibly more than 1000 years). From around the Enlightenment in Europe - and the associated revolutions in France and the United States of America - democratic governments have increasingly realised that transparency and openness are inseparable aspects of the democratic ideal. It isn't sufficient to have government BY the People, unless the People can also know everything that government is doing. This lesson has been learned unevenly - Sweden's Freedom of Information laws date to 1766 and 1809 in their first expression, whilst England and Scotland developed their most complete implementations only in 2000 and 2002 - but it is now the case that almost all democratic governments worthy of the name also sign up to the concept that the workings of government should be, as far as possible, open and transparent to the outside world. Since 1909, for example, every single debate and discussion in the British Parliament has been recorded in an official public record - the Hansard - open to all to read and consult. This serves multiple purposes, but all have the same root - the concept that it is morally necessary that the workings of democracy be open to the world, so that the people can see and trust what is done in their name. (It's equally important that the Hansard is open to the public of the World, not just those citizens of the United Kingdom.)

For Roller Derby, the situation is much worse. WFTDA, MRDA and JRDA, the three de-facto governing bodies of the majority interpretation of the sport, all fall far short of any national government in their transparency. Whilst the MRDA at least have some public forums, in which discussion is encouraged, much of their debate is non-public; and their rating/ranking system is perpetually obscure. WFTDA is perhaps the worst offender here. Whilst the official ruleset, rating scheme, and bout records are public, along with some official resources, almost none of the machinery of democratic decision making is public at all. In fact, the only public part of the WFTDA forum is a tiny stub which seems to mostly be used for job adverts. (It's even more vexing that, in order to access the rest of these forums, and much of the rest of the "members only" parts of WFTDA resources, you must sign up to a Non-Disclosure Agreement - not only are these resources locked away from the outside world, but those who can see them are legally barred from speaking of them to the unwashed masses. This is not the behaviour of a modern democratic institution; it's the approach of a startup company.) Consider that WFTDA represents only 400 or so leagues as members - less than 1/4 of all of the entities which play by WFTDA rules across the world. Members, of course, have the sole right to vote and influence WFTDA policy - and the right to be included in WFTDA's own ratings and rankings, and hence to be eligible to compete in WFTDA's international Playoffs and Championships, which only really concern the top 25% of WFTDA member leagues - but what of the rights of those 1200+ leagues who aren't members, and perhaps can't justify the costs involved? Those 1200+ leagues also consist of skaters (and officials, photographers, announcers, &c &c) engaged in the very same community.

(the National level Governing Bodies - UKRDA, FFRS Roller Derby, and so on - also suffer from similar lacking of transparency, and for the same root reasons.)