Bump, Tumble, Go Faster! In Egypt, Roller Derby Is Real Life


Two American teachers at an international school founded the team in 2012, holding the first practice sessions in a school parking lot. It was time of heady change in Egypt. A year earlier, at the height of the Arab Spring, young Egyptians had massed in Tahrir Square to press for the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, their president of almost 30 years.

Emboldened by the revolution, young Egyptians embraced new forms of cultural expression, biting political satire and unconventional sports like roller derby. Today, the bravura spirit of change has dissipated under the harsh rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whose government has jailed thousands of opponents, arrested gay people and imprisoned young Egyptians for posting the wrong thing on Facebook.

“Our dreams are down,” Ms. Abdelnasser said. “Since 2011 we’re in a great depression. Nothing changes. We’re stuck.”

But roller derby endures, driven in part by a sense of warm camaraderie between players. They gather for juice after training or hold pizza parties. Earlier this month, they went sandboarding on the steep dunes around Fayoum, an oasis south of Cairo. Close buddies call each other “derby wives.”

“There’s a sisterhood that resonates across the world,” Ms. El Desouky said. “We see each other. We stay with each other.”

Slide Show

Portraits of ‘Cairollers’

CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

What they lack are opponents.

There are other new contact sports for women in Egypt. A national women’s rugby team was established in 2015, and a women’s dodge ball team recently won a major African tournament. But roller derby has been constrained by several factors, including cost.

A full set of helmet, kneepads and skates runs into hundreds of dollars, and the sudden devaluation of the Egyptian pound last year effectively doubled the price.

They had to improvise. Players take training advice from tutorials on YouTube, and donations of secondhand gear from teams in the United States. Their dream is to start a competitive league in Egypt. They are looking for a sponsor.

Earlier this year the Cairollers played their first competitive games against visiting women’s teams from Abu Dhabi and Marseilles, France. In the days before her game, Ms. El Desouky was sick with anxiety, she said.

But once the starting whistle sounded, her worries vanished. “It’s was really, really awesome,” she said. “I can’t wait to do it again.”

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