Ravelympics: The Games That Must Not Be Named
September 29, 2012
PROJECTS: Leveling Up
PRINCIPLES: Production centered, Shared purpose
TAGS: Civic Engagement, Mobilization, Ravelry
Last month, I blogged about the 2012 Ravellenic Games as a Ravelry community event that encouraged participants to craft while watching the Olympic Games. The event was a huge success and was a source of inspiration and learning for many of the 10,000 participants who scrambled to start and finish projects, learn new techniques, and overcome many obstacles to cross the finish line and earn a badge.
In addition to encouraging a furthering of Ravelers’ crafting abilities and watching the Olympics as a large community, there is another interesting side to the 2012 Ravellenic Games Event. Before the Olympic torch had even reached London, the Ravellenic Games unintentionally became a space of civic engagement when there arose controversy surrounding the original name of the event, Ravelympics, which had been used during the 2008 and 2010 Olympic Games.
The controversy began when the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) sent a letter asking that Ravelry stop using the term Ravelympics. The letter explained, “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,” and that, “In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work” (the official letter is posted on Ravelry, which requires a free account to access).
Soon Ravelry was abuzz with chatter about the USOC’s letter. Ravelers voiced their immediate reactions of anger and upset about being told they were denigrating or disrespecting the Olympics and athletes. The entire point of Ravelympics was to offer a worldwide knit-along that crossed groups, interests, and distance while also encouraging participants to watch and support the Olympics. For many Ravelers, the Ravelympic Games were a reason to watch the Olympic Opening and Closing ceremonies and keep up with the Olympic events. It served as an activity to do with friends, a way to meet new people who shared an interest in fiber crafts, and a motivation to overcome personal obstacles and learn new techniques, while simultaneously cheering on their country’s athletes in the Olympic Games.
As one Harry Potter Ravthlete said, the excitement over the Ravellenics and Olympic Games superceded other life activities:
“Can you believe it, i’m annoyed because tonight i have to go to a party (Nurse Party) but right now, i prefer to come back home, jump on my sofa and knit a new project while watching the games… I don’t want to waste my time this week…”
Team discussions would routinely jump between giving minute-by-minute reactions to a particular competition and asking for advice or giving encouragement on a specific knitting project. During the Ravellenic Games, for example, a Harry Potter Ravthlete was feeling torn between finishing a vest or starting a new project. A teammate started cheering her on to finish the vest by saying how good it’ll feel to have a big project finished and be able to start a new one fresh. During this discussion, an English team member jumps in and shouts (via all capitalized letters) that England had just won their first gold. The discussion thread changed to members from across the world chatting about the golds that had been won by their and others’ countries. The Ravellenics Teams provided a place of camaraderie where such topics of vests and gold medals in rowing could be juxtaposed in harmony.
It was not surprising then, that so many Ravthletes were upset at being told they were “denigrating” the meaning of the Olympics. Furthermore, many Ravelers reacted in anger at what they saw as the USOC’’s disregard for the effort, time, creativity, and expense they put into the crafted goods. Some of these items were gifted to others or even donated to charities, deployed soldiers, and premature babies. Of the 46,989 projects finished for the 2012 Ravellenic Games, 3,185 projects were completed for charities.
And Ravelers were frustrated at the disrespect of a craft that had been used by artists to create massive works of public art in honor of the Olympic games, which had previously but no longer includes art as an Olympic event (a history that many Ravelers, including myself, were unaware of until this controversy).
In addition to Ravelers feelings of anger and frustration, the USOC’s letter created a space of learning and debate as Ravelers discussed who owns “rights” to the term -lympics, the financial side of the Olympics, the “amateur” athletes, and the sponsors of athletes and the Olympics. When one member asked how a project featuring the Olympic Rings could be targeted, another member chimed in about the idea of Fair Use,
“Posted patterns are definitely a trademark infringement if they are publishing for pay. The freebies are kind of ambiguous and may need consultation with a lawyer to confirm.
Posting about a project you DID that has the logos, however, may be protected by fair use.”
These feelings and discussions were not just confined to Ravelry, however. The USOC’s letter inspired many Ravelers to raise their typically-quiet or silent political voices against the USOC on the USOC’s facebook page, website, and even their headquarters. A Raveler on The Crochet Liberation Front wrote her own letter in protest of the USOC. Some Ravelers boycotted the Olympics and their sponsors. Ravelers cursed USOC officials to not receive any knit presents for Christmas.
The leader of the Harry Potter team, KnittingPrincipal, channeled her frustration into creativity, and, inspired by Dr. Seuss, wrote a short poem about the author of the original letter sent to Ravelry. A short excerpt:
Whatever the reason,
His heart or his head,
He stood there on Olympics Eve, hating the Ravs,
Staring down from his cave with a sour, OC frown
At the warm lighted windows below in their town.
For he knew every Raveler, all across the wide world,
Was busy now, readying sticks, yarn, and hooks.
“And they’re picking out patterns!” he snarled with a sneer.
“Patterns that might say ‘Olympics’…oh dear!”
Within 24 hours, the USOC issued two apologies to the Ravelry community. One of the mods of Ravelry remarked that she could could not help but “stand back in awe at the collective power of Ravelry” at eliciting such a quick apology.
The USOC still required that Ravelympics change its name, however. Members across Ravelry were invited to show their like or dislike of a potential list of names, and finally the name Ravellenic Games was chosen by the organizers, giving a nod to the Panhellenic Games. As the controversary was officially wrapped up, many Ravelers found themselves looking up the Panhellenic games in what may have been a history lesson to 10,000 Ravelers.
For many Ravelers, the fiery response to the USOC’s letter was not because of its request for a name change. While a letter asking for a name change would have surely elicited discussion about ownership of the term “lympics” and the financial side of the Olympics, it is unlikely that it would have resulted in the protests, anger, and level of upset that the USOC’s letter created. But the USOC’s letter insulted the craft and failed to recognize what the Ravelympics event does to celebrate the Olympics and its athletes. As one of the Ravelry mods put it, “It is more than just a trademark issue (that I get). But the letter went beyond legalese. Never did I expect to see ‘denigrate’ used to describe our event….ever.”
Another member echoed this sentiment, “Boooo for having no sense of whimsy, at all, and reinforcing that the pursuits I enjoy aren’t as important as sports.”
For the Ravthletes, the USOC’s letter was not just about trademark infringement. It was an undermining of and insult to the interests upon which their community had been built.
But although the letter sparked a ball of fury that erupted across Ravelry and other sites, the quick apology helped quell some of the anger. The Ravelry mods helped to further douse the flames by moving discussion of the controversy to a different board and encouraging Ravthletes to get back to “FUN PLANNING” for the upcoming events. Posts providing updates about the Ravelympics name change also asked “have you found a team yet?” and diverted attention back to preparation and team building.
Although the Ravthletes were left with a bitter taste, the apology and the mods’ acceptance of it seemed to go a long way in helping resolve the controversy and focus energies back on their interests and activities. Some of the main issues of the USOC had not gone away with the apology – who does own the term ‘lympics? – but the Ravellenics group was no longer a collective spot for hashing out these issues. Diffused to smaller groups, many of the discussions fizzled out as the Ravelers devoted their energies to the upcoming games and projects that awaited them.
The Ravelympics controversy, however, has shown the community its incredible collective power, a lesson that will long outlive the 2012 Ravellenic Games.