Friday, June 22, 2012

Fanning the Olympic Flame

Everyone on Ravelry (and probably everyone on the internet by now) is aware that this happened

The US Olympic Committee doesn't want Ravelry to use the name "Ravelympics" for the organised knit-a-long to be held during the Olympics, where people challenge themselves to start a project during the opening ceremony and finish it during the closing ceremony.

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of opinions about this, the USOC, the wording of their letter and the subsequent apology by the USOC over the wording of their letter. I've watched the whole thing at an amused distance as it spread across Ravelry, Twitter, Facebook, and then on to a number of different blogs and news sites.

I felt that rather than leap in and throw my opinion down in the heat of the moment with everyone else's, I was going to sit back and think about things first. There are a lot of things going on here, and lots of different issues to consider. Now I've thought about it, I'm going to lay it all out for anyone who cares.

Firstly, I've never really seen the point of the Ravelympics. I'm not a sports fan, and I've never seen the point of using a sporting event to motivate me to knit something (I feel pretty much the same way about the Tour-de-Fleece and spinning). If you want to challenge yourself to knit something difficult in two weeks, go for it. Why is it necessary to tie it in with something like the Olympics? But, a lot of people really love it and get a lot of out of it. Whatever floats your boat. Having fun is never a bad thing.

As for the USOC, the main intent of their letter appears to be protecting their trademark. This is a financial issue for them, and a pretty serious one. If you go to their website, you can read their financial reports . In their financial reports is the functions and goals of the organisation:

"the USOC is responsible for the training, entering and funding of U.S. teams for the Olympic, Paralympic, Pan American and Parapan American Games, while serving as a steward of the Olympic Movement throughout the country.

In addition to its international Games responsibilities and its work to advance the Olympic Movement, the USOC aids America’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes through their National Governing Bodies, providing financial support and jointly working to develop customized, creative and impactful athlete-support and coaching-education programs.

The USOC also supports U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes on and off the field of play through programming such as direct athlete funding, health insurance, tuition grants, media and marketing opportunities, career services and performance-based monetary rewards. In addition, the Olympic Training Center facilities provide athletes with performance services, including sports medicine; strength and conditioning; psychology, physiology and nutrition assistance; and performance technology."

Nobody should be surprised that all of these activities cost money. Where does that money come from? According to their financial report for 2010 (the most recent published) -

The "USOC marks rights income" and the "Licensing royalty income" is the money they earn from company's sponsorship, allowing them to use the Olympic name and logo on their products, and selling Olympic-related merchandise. As you can see, it forms a reasonable portion of their overall revenue, and this is where Ravelry has attracted the attention of the USOC lawyers. USOC is enforcing their trademark rights, and they're doing so because they need those rights to earn money. Money that is then used for their programs. I have no problem with them doing this.

I think it's also worth pointing out that there's no revenue received from government grants, and their revenue from contributions (ie donations) are much lower than the combined revenue from broadcast rights, USOC marks rights and licensing royalty. Anyone complaining about the over-commercialization of the Olympic Games might want to think about that for a few minutes.

Let's switch to the letter itself, which is what has caused most of the outrage in the knitting community. It has some choice words in it, that made me roll my eyes and shout REALLY?? Especially this charming bit:

"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."

Ouch. The idea that anyone's efforts are denigrated because I knit seems ridiculous. Knitters are watching Olympic athletes striving to win gold, and they're inspired to push themselves in knitting. How is that denigrating? The USOC didn't do themselves any favors here.

The inevitable outcry led to an apology that had a line in it that made things worse:

"To show our support of the Ravelry community, we would welcome any handmade items that you would like to create to travel with, and motivate, our team at the 2012 Games."

First they insult knitters, then they want to accept our handknits? Yeah, right. (Although, I think this statement was a hamfisted attempt at showing they appreciated knitterly support).

Finally, I want to talk about something that makes me really sad and uncomfortable. How some people have reacted to all of this. The thread where Casey shared the USOC letter spiralled out of control pretty quickly. There was the standard wailing and gnashing of teeth, and exclamations of how insulted everyone felt. It got pretty hysterical, and gave me a few LOLs. But then people started forming what was little more than an angry mob waving pitchforks. That mob spread their vitriol via phone calls, email, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc etc.  

Stay classy, knitters. That's where you lost me. It's really not that hard to take the high road, is it?

There's this attitude I've seen again and again on Ravelry. Any time a knitter feels they've been insulted, or their knitting has been insulted, they go a bit batshit. Someone says knitting is for grannys, says it's not just for grannys anymore, asks for something handknit, doesn't fawn over a handknit gift enough, points out you can buy socks at Walmart, thinks wool is itchy, thinks handknits are ugly, doesn't think you should knit in class/church/a theater, or just plain doesn't think knitting is All That, and knitters start waving their pointy sticks around.

Knitting is just a hobby. It's a hobby I enjoy, but I don't expect everyone else on the planet to like it as much as I do. If we flip our shit everytime someone says anything slightly negative about knitting, we'll never have time for anything else. If knitters want to promote knitting in a positive way, screeching at everyone about it isn't the way to do it. You don't look like you're defending your noble craft from the big, bad, bullies. You just look unhinged. I figure if anyone doesn't like knitting, it's their loss not mine.

PS Extra-special douche-bag points to the good old Bunkerettes, who crawled out of whatever hole they were hiding in to bitch about the 3-year-old drama no one else cares about anymore on the Hot Air article comments. It's good to know Ravelry is still living rent-free in your brains, ladies.