Last week, the U.S. Olympic Committee sent a cease-and-desist letter to a bunch of knitters who had found a creative way to get together and watch the Olympics. While copyright infringement notices happen all the time, this one seemed a particularly far-fetched target for the USOC’s wrath.
The knitters — and crocheters, spinners and other fiber enthusiasts — are members of a social-networking site called Ravelry, which has been a haven for fiber artists since 2007: It’s a bulletin board, marketplace and discussion forum rolled into one.
In 2008, Ravelry members launched the Ravelympics, a tongue-in-cheek event that has continued every two years since, in which crafters set themselves specific goals, start their projects during the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games and have to have them finished by the end of the Closing Ceremonies.
Not any more — at least not under that name.
“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,” said the USOC’s letter, which Ravelry’s founder, Casey Forbes, posted on the site on June 20. “In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.”
“Yeah,” one knitter commented on Ravelry, “because it’s so much easier to knit a sweater than run 40 yards.”
The USOC may be too big to fight — the Ravelympics will henceforth be known, after a lot of debate and a member poll, as the Ravellenic Games. But that doesn’t mean Ravelers didn’t try. Ravelers are not your grandmother’s knitters; they spend a lot of time on computers and they know how to use social media. The pushback on Twitter, in particular, was so intense that the USOC found itself backtracking — and even ended up having to apologize, in writing. Twice. The first apology wasn’t good enough.
In fairness, the USOC didn’t necessarily mean to pick on knitters. They pick on everybody.
“We send out hundreds of these letters a year,” said Patrick Sandusky, the chief communications and public affairs officer of the USOC.
So far, the committee has managed to change hundreds if not thousands of Olympic knockoffs, including the Rat Olympics, the Hip Hop Olympics, the Redneck Olympics and the Olympigs, although the last name conjures up more of a vision of porcine Greek deities than of anything pertaining to athletics.
But in turning on Ravelry, it encountered an audience it wasn’t prepared for.
For one thing, it is bigger. The site has more than 2.2 million registered users, although only about 40,000 or so log on in any given month. For another, it is younger and tech-savvier. The Internet has proven to be fertile ground for knitting because it allows people to exchange tips, pictures, videos and techniques; even before Ravelry’s founding, knit blogs were among the Top 10 most popular blog types.