For 12 years, Egypt has had its own women’s roller derby team. A sport of contact that might come as a surprise in a patriarchal country but managed to survive for eight years.
The idea of creating a women’s roller derby team in Egypt dates back to 2011, in the midst of the Arab springs. Two american teachers working in Cairo, decided to bring this sport to Egypt.
By word of mouth, the team was finally founded one year later in Cairo, and the journey of the Cairollers could finally kick off. Since then, although the club has not yet played many official matches, it confirms its commitment to the empowerment of women in Egypt.
We met the team leader and co-founder of cairollers, Shaneikiah Bickham.
How did you manage to create your roller derby team, and what does it look like today?
It mostly started with word of mouth, advertising the team among our circle of friends. It took us a year before we really built it up and it was made of half expats and half Egyptians. Then, our first media appearance allowed us to recruit more girls from outside our own circles. Our league is now composed of about 40 people, including 15 female skaters who are the team members, and 5 people we call “fresh meat” and represent the new recruits. In the team, 5 girls are dedicated to train the new members until they can play.
What was the hardest part of the journey?
It was mostly the logistics that was the most difficult part. We had to buy everything from abroad, which can be very expensive and even if some girls already had their own skates, we still had to find a venue to train. In the beginning, we did our training at our school basketball court, then at a few sports clubs, each time it was a bit of a challenge to find a place.
#A_fricanGoodTime First African roller derby tournament!!
How do you manage to survive financially and provide the necessary equipment to those who could not afford it?
Fortunately, we have received many donations. Also, when someone starts the roller derby, they usually rent gears from a team member until they have saved enough money to buy their own. Most of them end up buying their equipment on Amazon and give back their rented equipment to the team. We also pay a monthly fee that goes for renting a place to train, making t-shirts and so on.
Was it difficult to make this sport accepted in Egypt for women ?
When I announced to my colleagues that I was going to start a feminine roller derby team in Egypt, they were marveling at me and asked me if the girls in Egypt would be allowed to do it. They were mostly worried about the risks and whether the sport would be accepted. The truth is that it was. We appeared on Egyptian television, on Cairoscene, which is the equivalent of Buzzfeed, and also in public appearances. We made an impression and often girls who don’t live in Cairo contact us to find out if there are teams in their city, like in Alexandria for example.
How is roller derby an empowerment sport?
I have played for four different leagues so far, including Cairollers, and I have always felt this sense of sisterhood. Roller derby has both a sporting dimension because it is a very competitive cardio activity, but also allows a very important social connection. To have a club that works, it takes time and endurance. We spend a lot of time together training, communicating but also fundraising. All these activities create a bond and this DNA of our league, very Do It Yourself, is feminist in itself. It’s a team fighting for something, and that’s what roller derby is all about. If people think that women are not as good at sports as men, seeing them playing roller derby, which is all about hurting yourself, falling and sweating, changes perceptions.
— RollerCon (@RollerCon) July 25, 2014
As a player but also a team leader, what did this journey with the egyptian roller derby team bring to you?
A lot of things. When I lost my mother, two years ago, my team gathered around me to make sure I was okay. Later, when I was in the hospital this time for birth control complications, once again my team came to my bedside to make sure I wasn’t alone. This team became a family, and helped me survive in Egypt. I am very proud to be its co-founder and very excited to be able to make it grow every day, to try to reach the top of its abilities. Besides, I just love to see these fulfilled women on the track, it makes me happy.