The latest Olympic controversy has nothing to do with performance-enhancing drugs or an athlete’s failure to make Team USA.
No, over the last 24 hours, a couple million knitters and crocheters have been up in arms over the U.S. Olympic Committee’s overzealous protection of its trademark. The USOC’s lawyer had sent a cease and desist letter to the owner of Ravelry, asking the site to change the name of its biennial Ravelympics. The story even made it onto Gawker.
I haven’t participated before, but was thinking about doing so this year. It’s mainly an informal online event during which Ravelers choose projects and create them while watching the games on TV (which, let’s face it, isn’t always the most thrilling programming). They also compete on teams. Nothing is being sold — in fact, the website removed a Ravelympics badge it was selling a few years ago at the request of the USOC. No one is claiming any partnership with the real Olympic Games.
While I understand companies and organizations need to constantly protect their trademarks in order to keep them, it was mainly the suggestion in the USOC’s letter that Ravelympians were somehow denigrating the games with the informal competition — which probably got more people interested in watching table tennis and weightlifting than they normally would — that irked me:
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.
I guess what they didn’t get is that the whole point for most people is to participate while SUPPORTING THE ATHLETES. Yes, we’re also making the Olympic experience a little more personal, accomplishing things that are important to us — maybe knitting a fair isle sweater for the first time — while watching Michael Phelps get his umpteenth gold medal. But, we’re not capitalizing on the Olympics for our gain in any way. Neither is Ravelry — it hasn’t attracted 2 million members by pretending to be an official Olympics sponsor. Not to mention the fact that Ravelry has members from all over the world, with people from different countries likely competing on the same Ravelympics “teams.” I don’t know how much more aligned with the so-called Olympic spirit you can get.
What also gets under my skin is that this competition that is supposed to bring together the world, promote peace and harmony, celebrate athletic feats, yadda, yadda, yadda, has become so commercialized that the USOC lawyers spend so much time protecting their “brand,” even going after companies on the Olympic peninsula in Washington state.
Luckily this story has a somewhat happy ending: After what I can only imagine was a relentless flood of tweets and emails, a USOC spokesman issued an apology:
The letter sent to the organizers of the Ravelympics was a standard-form cease and desist letter that explained why we need to protect our trademarks in legal terms. Rest assured, as an organization that has many passionate knitters, we never intended to make this a personal attack on the knitting community or to suggest that knitters are not supportive of Team USA.
Queue the jokes about going after people with pointy sticks.
I’m not sure where that leaves things with the name, but this whole situation just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.