Stephen Colbert’s Artificial Swedener & Ravelympics
The US Olympic Committee has gone and done it again. They’ve managed to stoke the fire of yet another marginalized group of people: crocheters and knitters. Apparently intentionally underfunding the Paralympics and their treatment of the Cowichan Tribes during the Vancouver Games wasn’t enough, but now they’ve focused their laser beam sites on Ravelry, a popular online forum that hosts the “Ravelympics,” a global viewing party for the Olympics. This time, however, they’re in way over their heads as crocheters and knitters are a global force to be reckoned with.
It all began when Gawker ran an article about a cease and desist letter that co-founders Casey and Jessica received from Brett Hirsch, a law clerk for the US Olympic Committee (USOC) seeking to end the use of the name “Ravelympics” as well as a host of patterns that are Olympic-themed. In the letter, it asks for several steps to be taken and states:
“The athletes of Team USA have usually spent the better part of their entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them. For many, the Olympics represent the pinnacle of their sporting career. Over more than a century, the Olympic Games have brought athletes around the world together to compete in an event that has come to mean much more than just a competition between the world’s best athletes. The Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.“
The spirit of the Ravelympics, for those who aren’t familiar with them, is that crocheters and knitters compete against themselves to make the most amount of projects while watching the games. It’s main purpose is in support of the Olympic Games. It’s an international viewing party for the Games. It brings diverse groups of people together from all over the globe to share in a common interest: needle arts. Ravelry.com doesn’t collect any money for or profit from Ravelympics as does the USOC who receive millions of dollars from sponsors who license the trademark. So it smacks of elitism for the USOC on one hand to suggest that the Games “…encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony” but on the other hand act in direct accordance with those beliefs by issuing the following attack on crafters:
We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games. In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.
Those are some harsh, unnecessary words. Denigrate? Really, USOC? Those comments insult literally millions of men and women who crochet and knit for pleasure or profit in every country around this world, those very same people who support the Olympics and the ideals it bestows. The carefully scripted word selection demeans the very act of making an afghan, a sock, a sweater, etc as denegrating the Olympics and all Olympians. I find that rather disingenuous considering one of the featured art installations for the 2012 Olympic Games in London are to be a trio of lions…you guessed it…created by needleworker Shauna Richardson. These gigantic crocheted lions took nearly 7 months a piece to create. That in and of itself is an Olympic feat that I’d like to see anyone from the USOC tackle. And so is knitting and crocheting for that matter. If you’ve ever had to work a quadruple treble crochet stitch I can attest that it’s like an ice skater doing a quadruple salchow.
But back to the point and for me it boils down to this: It’s one thing to want to protect trademarks and copyrights. I get that. And, I support that wholly. Copyright and trademark infringement is a concern that all businesses have to face daily. And if Ravelry, in their support of the Olympics, has mistakenly used the namesake without authorization or in compliance with the law, then they should change the name. I get it. I’m saddened by it, but I totally get it.
However, to throw a jab at needleworkers in the process, is uncalled for. Brett Hirsch, the law clerk who wrote the letter on behalf of the USOC, has ignited a firestorm from knitters and crocheters alike on Twitter (An aside: I find it not so surprising he penned this letter seeing how he is a former water polo player and might have a vested interest in athletics as a whole). But perhaps a little knowledge on his part in understanding that knitting was an Olympic sport before the USOC was even formed might put a different lens on the situation, an educational lens.
As of 11pm last night, needleworkers like myself have banded together to raise awareness for the Ravelympics by making it a trending topic on Twitter. It only took 45 minutes for the yarnies to “release the Kraken” on Brett and the entire USOC before it trended. The power of social media notwithstanding, I think an apology is in order. I believe the way to get it is to reach out to the tastemakers like Stephen Colbert who is, and I laugh while I say this, actively seeking to take over Sweden’s twitter account (they let one Swedish citizen a day do it) by promoting that he’s an “artificial Swedener.” Many knitters and crocheters have offered to make his socks, scarves, etc. if he takes up our cause and promotes it on his show. If anything, this whole debacle is certainly worth a good laugh on his show.
So, tweet @StephenAtHome, @USOlympic (NOT OlympicS), and @BAHirsch and include the #Ravelympics hashtag to join in on the fun as well as the wrath.
I think the next time the US Olympic Committee wants to marginalize another group, they ought to first research that group. There are many more of us than they think.
UPDATE: The no-apology came in. And then there was an addendum to the no-pology. I’ve recommended that they retract the original letter sent to Ravelry founders, Casey and Jessica. And if they’d like to get on the winning end of a good PR strategy, they’d take this as a learning opportunity and allow Ravelympics to continue and request that items made during the crocheting and knitting events be donated to the athletes. That’s how you win friends and influence people properly.