If you’re part of the yarn world, you have most likely heard about the US Olympic Committee’s contact with the Knitting and Crochet On-Line Community, Ravelry.com, regarding the activity known as the “Ravelympics.” If you have not been apprised of the situation you can read about it further on Ravelry.com.
Before I get to my open letter to the USOC, let me say this, I have no vested interest in Ravelry.com, I started a message board there almost five years ago, and did indeed participate in the first set of games mostly likely to be formerly known as Ravelympics. I have been a member of Ravelry since 2007 when there were a mere 10,000 crochet lovers and our sister knitters as members. I can say that Casey and Jess have always operated in good conscience and have offered those of us who use yarn a place to call home, create lasting relationships, learn, share and grow.
Dear Mr. Hirsch,
Whereas, I cannot fault the USOC’s concern for the protection of their trademarks and intellectual property, I can find much fault with the derisive and patronizing tone of your letter.
Your attitude toward traditional feminine handicrafts is sadly all too common in a culture that regards that which is traditionally feminine to be of less value (handicrafts) than that of traditionally male pursuits (sports). Yes, I am quite aware that females participate in sporting events, just as you are perhaps (or not) aware that many men consider fiber arts and traditional handicrafts a valuable and rewarding past time.
First of all, I am quite sure most Ravelry.com users are quite aware of the time, dedication and effort applied by the athletes that represent their nations. I would like to point out that the users of Ravelry.com are not merely US citizens, but rather Ravelry.com is a global community. Many Ravelry.com users particpating in the on-line games are proudly representing their nations and not the USA. Never once have I seen anyone on Ravelry claim to be making a mockery of the Olympics or the spirit for which is is renown. However, there are many Ravelry.com users, who do not care for sporting events and last I checked there is no law that requires US citizens to display their patriotism by supporting US teams and individuals participating in competitive sports.
I will quote your letter,
The Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.
I was unaware that the Olympic Games had cornered the market on those ideals. In fact, traditional feminine handicrafts are an intrinsic,and often over looked, aspect of almost every culture on Earth. Though to the host nation of the Summer 2012 Olympic’s credit they saw fit to commission a CROCHET ARTIST, Shauna Richardson, to crochet (yes, crochet with yarn even, and no it is not a form of knitting, it is a handicraft in its own right, the one most commonly used to create afghans) 30 foot lions. Is that making a mockery out of the Olympics? Or is that a cultural display? It appears in the United Kingdom, perhaps a more erudite and refined nation, the spirit of creativity is as valued as the pursuit of competitive sport.
Furthermore, though the Olympics were originally created to foster those ideals, over the past 40 years the games have been extremely politicized, many host cities saddled with crippling debt just for the privilege of having played host, and many millions of dollars have exchanged hands on a global level to “sponsor” these “not-for-profit” games. No blame on the athletes, they are doing what they love, they ARE dedicated and they are proudly representing their nations. As a specialist in International Relations, however, I do often wonder if that kind of sponsorship money might go further to promote safe drinking water, better hygiene, education and healthcare in some of the participating nations who have extreme poverty. Not a USOC concern of course, but I am ripping off the rose colored glasses here.
While I’m removing some Rosy lenses, let me point out to my readership that just because you are a not-for-profit organization in the United States of America it does not mean that you do not raise many millions of dollars and that a good portion of those go to well paid executive staff and of course law offices. Even in a tight economy, I am sure you are one “charity” many corporations don’t mind donating to because of the MASSIVE marketing exposure they receive by supporting the Olympics, perhaps some of which is driven by patriotism and a love of sport, but more likely the decision is one made by the bottom line.
I will quote you again,
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.
Sir, I am offended by this complete disregard for the amount of talent, skill, and dedication required for accomplished and often well noted fiber artisans to complete large and detailed works of fiber art in a very short amount of time. The reason one would compare the creation of a sweater (crochet or knit) to the Triathlon is because a sweater is a complex piece of construction that requires a great deal of complex mathematical calculations that you have to replicate upon hook or needles with many variables coming into play. It is part math, part art, and part engineering to make a sweater in any amount of time, two weeks? To create a sweater in two weeks requires an amazing amount of technical skill and training.
Also, An afghan is often a large crocheted (or knit) blanket, I would dare to see a beginning fiber artist attempt to make a full sized afghan in a two week period. Many hand workers were taught and trained in childhood and have been developing their skills and techniques over a life time. You have inferred that we are disrespecting the athletes and fail to recognize their hard work, well you sir, fail to understand how you have insulted more than 17.4 million US households that crochet, not to mention the millions of knitters, hand spinners, weavers and other fiber artists that are striving to keep dying arts alive in their communities.
Again, I understand your opposition based on the grounds of trademarks and intellectual property ownership, my objection lays in the ignorant, condescending and insensitive attitude displayed in the letter to Mr. Forbes (Casey) towards what is most often considered traditional feminine handicrafts. Not only do we who create with yarn and other fibers keep traditional arts and crafts alive in our country, thereby preserving our cultural heritage, we create lasting items that can be used to warm the homeless, clothe the poor, bring joy to traumatized children and support the courageous and intrepid athletes of the Special Olympics.
I suggest the USOC retract those comments and apologize for speaking as if we who do handicrafts are young children who must have our manners corrected.
With kind regards,
Laurie A. Wheeler
PS. I am not into sports (well, except for curling, cause damn it curling is awesome), never have been, I’m a nerd and I’ve been having these kinds of arguments with jocks for more than 30 years. I can appreciate their dedication and training, but it is not the end all be all, perhaps some quid pro quo in the respect department is required.