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While professional basketball, baseball, and college football have been botching attempts to re-open despite health experts’ advice, women’s roller derby has been putting together a master plan that is so efficient, so scientifically informed, so precise that it’s sexy. Enough for Emory University epidemiologist Zachary Binney, who has been a prominent critic of how other sports are reopening, to confess its spectator policies are so good it “almost made me cry.”

Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the international governing body for the sport, has been on top of its COVID-19 research since the get-go. On April 6, they sounded a call for the public health professionals amongst their ranks to come together and conjure a plan -- and boy, did they deliver. Mikaela Kosich (aka Bubble Wrath), a biostatistician at the University of New Mexico, Nikki McCorristin (aka Trauma), an infection control nurse in Salt Lake City, and Bobbiejean Garcia (aka BG Smack) came together to develop what may be the most desirable system yet: The Return-to-Play Ladder.

Made up of seven tiers, the ladder allows a league to go up a level to increase activity or down a level to decrease according to safety measures. For starters, leagues can’t even start on the ladder until their local government has met baseline conditions: all stay-at-home orders must be lifted, gatherings of up to 50 people must be allowed and their area cannot have more than five positive cases per 10,000 people over 14 days.

“We are really trying to look at the science and figure out what the infection rates look like,” Erica Vanstone, the executive director of the WFTDA, told Wired. The group even created a map of compiled data on their website that marks which tier is appropriate for each location.
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While the ladder accounts for athletes, it also specifies guidelines for officials, photographers, announcers, and volunteers. For example, tier-five means small audiences are in the clear, but events with larger audiences will require “the existence of commercially available vaccines.”

The Return-to-Play Ladder is a hot commodity. The WFTDA has received nearly 700 requests for the document since its last polish in May. And not just sports leagues—even the Tasmanian State government in Australia wants in on the action. Now that roller derby has set the stage in preparing for the season during the pandemic, hopefully, other sports can take a page from WFTDA’s book and start implementing some ladders of their own.

Header image via Laura Stanley on Pexels

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Riley Mayes is a student at Smith College where she is pursuing her BA in English. She currently lives in Brunswick, Maine, where she loves to go hiking, take care of her plants, and read the heaps of books on her bedside table. New to the twitter game https://twitter.com/RileyMayes3 

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