Duncan Mackay

So, the newly-elected chairman of Russia’s Olympic Committee reckons it is time chess was added to the Olympic programme. Moreover, Alexander Zhukov says he will be putting pressure on IOC president Jacques Rogge for its inclusion, adding ominously: "Regrettably, the IOC  doesn’t want to add that sport to the Olympic programme, but we will insist."

Hmm. Interesting phraseology. Seems Mr Zhukov, a member of the  Russian cabinet and former head of Russia’s chess federation is making the sort of offer that sounds more in keeping with the Russian mafia.

But, of course, the IOC will refuse it? Won’t they? The overtures from chess have been on the table for some time, citing its global popularity, and it is known that there are elements within the IOC who  would like to see the Games become more cerebral.

But if they ever let in chess, where will it end. Scrabble? Poker? Backgammon? How about a spot of Sudoku?

All worthy and popular pursuits which might consider they too are worth an Olympic berth should chess get the nod?

But do any meet the IOC criteria of being telegenic? Goodness, if squash can’t get in because it apparently lacks visual appeal what chance does chess have?

No, what the Olympics needs is something that will quicken the pulses not slow them down to the point of nodding off. Which brings me to a sport which slots neatly into the philosophy of the modern Games:

Exciting, inexpensive to stage, great TV, commercially attractive and with a massive appeal to women. 

Think the opening of the doors on the first day of a Harrods sale as a horde of screeching females barge and bully their way towards the bargains, all  slam, bam and not so much as a thank you m’am. Put them on roller skates, dress them in fishnet tights, gold lame hot pants or mini skirts - not forgetting the gumshields and helmets - and you have Roller Derby, one of the fastest-growing contact sports, designed especially for women.

What is roller derby, you ask? Well, with Drew Barrymore's directorial debut Whip It! recently released, the coming-of-age drama starring Ellen Page is propelling the sport to become one of the biggest hits of the year.

Last Saturday night the ticket touts were out in force in Tottenham, not for anything happening football-wise at White Hart Lane but outside the local leisure centre just down the road where the Steam Rollers met the Suffra Jets. This same venue also staged  Britain’s  first-ever roller derby international, between The London Rollergirls and Canada, before a capacity crowd.

Since the first roller derby league was launched in the UK four years ago virtually every match has been a sell-out, particularly in London where some 50 women of all shapes, sizes, age and nationalities spend a couple of evenings a week spinning around an elliptical track in pursuit only of points for each opposing player they pass. And if they can shove them out of the way, or even knock them down, so much the better.

Hands, knees and plenty of boomps-a-daisy. It’s speed skating with attitude for these hell-for-leather angels, and inevitably there are a few unladylike brawls between women whose more demure day jobs range from an accountant to a qualified to psychologist.
But once dolled up in their retro combat outfits they adopt alter egos, with accompanying stage names, such as Sleazy Rider, Bette Noire and Grace of Wrath.  

These are the ladies who crunch. It may not sound terribly Olympian, but with Rogge’s new accent on "yoof" and wanting to show the Games' feminine side, could Roller Derby’s time be coming?

Something which began in Depression-era America as a mixed sport but is now generally played only by women in 135 US leagues, is gaining popularity throughout Europe and with teams in a dozen British towns and cities.

So why become a Rollergirl? Preston-born Stephanie Ross, aka Correctional Felicity explains: "There’s not much else a 27-year- old can do when you want to take up a sport.  And as it’s girls-only sport you don’t get guys doing it who are better than you. It’s a full-on game. 

"You hit people really hard and get a lot of aggression out of your system.  Basically you hit them with your full body but you can’t hit their heads or their back or below the knee. You go for the shoulder or the chest. It’s a real adrenaline booster. You hit each other and then you go for a drink afterwards, a bit like rugby I suppose."

TJ Usher, (Dot Slash) is a former figure skater took it up after seeing a documentary called Roller Girls in the US. "I find it physically challenging, a good way to keep fit and make new friends.  You get rid of aggression in a controlled environment. I don’t like gyms, I find them boring, and there are no other sports that interest me. Fitness is the main thing, I reckon you can burn off about 500 calories an hour which for a woman is a good thing.  It means you can eat as many cakes as you want afterwards. As a sport, it’s cool.”

Not all Rollergirls are Amazons. Some mere slips of things, like Jess Holland, (Sky Rockit), a 26-year-old London journalist. "I played roller-hockey at university and read about London Rollergirls in Time Out.  I like the fact that it’s all girls and that you can dress up a bit and have an a different persona. It suits all shapes and sizes and you don’t get your usual sporty types doing it. We have quite a few Aussies and Americans involved but so far it does not seem to have caught on among the ethnic community.  There used to be one or two men’s teams years ago, but now it is all women.  It’s is not just a feminist thing, but I think it is a way of women becoming more assertive."

Although men are not allowed to skate, they can pitch in as referees , masseurs and medics (bruises are the norm and broken bones not unknown). "This is something we take seriously as a sport," says Jayne Mahoney (Fox Sake), whose husband Dave is the London announcer: "And when you’ve had a bad day there’s nothing like putting your skates on and knocking the crap out of someone else."

Beats chess, don’t you think?

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics