“Do not meddle in the affairs of knitters, for they carry pointy things and know how to use them.” Granola Geek Mom
Sebastian Coe announced on 18th April that the official Games motto for Olympics 2012 was to be Inspire a Generation.
According to LOCOG’s own website, “Inspire” is meant to be for millions of people to feel they’re part of the Games:
‘London 2012 will be the most far-reaching sporting and cultural event in the world to date. These Games are for the whole of the UK, for sport and culture, for volunteers and business.’ – Seb Coe, Chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games
Since the launch of Inspire in 2008, people across the nations and regions of the UK have developed more than 2,500 amazing projects as part of the programme portfolio. These projects have been inspired by London 2012 and have created opportunities for millions of people to feel part of the Games and get involved in activity spanning sport, education, culture, volunteering and sustainability.
The Inspire programme has awarded these non-commercial projects with the Inspire mark as an acknowledgment of their excellence and as a promotional tool to allow them to connect with the Games and reach out to new audiences.
All to the good, yes?
Well. Some British knitters had the idea that this could include them. They invented the Woolsack and invited knitters to make a cushion (within set guidelines) out of any British wool. Their goal was up to 14,000 cushions – enough for every single London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic athlete to choose a cushion as their own personal welcome gift from the people of Britain. The cushions had to be completed by 31st May and sent to the Woolsack where they would be stuffed with donated wool. Any cushion not chosen by an athlete would be donated after the Games to an appropriate charity.
Fourteen thousand hand-knitted cushions. You know, this is exactly the kind of mad creative project that knitters love. An excuse to shop for more yarn! (Don’t look at me like that, you know it’s true.)
As the Woolsack site says:
- Woolsack is a project about British wool, taking it from the farm to the end use.
- It is steeped in our history of local communities, making things, hospitality and sharing skills
- It gives people otherwise unable to participate in the activities around the 2012 Games a chance to become personally involved.
- It’s about giving and creating
- It’s about making new friends
- We’ll be sharing all this with the athletes by making personal gifts for them that are beautiful, functional and are a little bit of Britain to take home with them.
What could go wrong?
GENTLE READER: Please do not — repeat, not — make a hostile approach to knitters. Have you not noticed that they are armed with long, pointy sticks? Miss Manners
Getting the Inspire Mark for a project is not particularly simple and certainly not automatic. Woolsack was clear from the start that what they intended to do was “make cushions from British wool to give as welcome gifts to the Olympic and Paralympic athletes competing in the 2012 Games”. They filled in the forms, met with LOCOG, and with the Head of Olympic Villages and the person who would be Woolsack’s Village contact. The plan in April 2011 was for Woolsack to be part of the “real village atmosphere”: in the Olympic Village Plaza there would be a Woolsack stand where athletes could choose a hand-knitted cushion, gifted to them by the knitters of Britain. Woolsack confirm that arrangements for “storage, security screening, and using the daily Olympic e-newsletter to inform athletes” were thoroughly discussed at the April meeting, and on 21st July 2011, Woolsack became officially an Olympiad project.
Well. Summer 2011, LOCOG decided that the Olympic athletes couldn’t be allowed to have a stand in the Plaza with free cushions. Commercial Sponsors wouldn’t like it.
August 2011, Woolsack’s Village contact suggested she use Chefs de Mission Seminars in London to present Woolsack to the leaders of all the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and National Paralympic Committees (NPCs). Woolsack were told that about a third of all the countries were very interested and wanted their athletes to have cushions.
But Woolsack wasn’t allowed to know which of the NOC and NPC delegates had expressed an interest in receiving Woolsack cushions. In October they were told that it had been decided by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games that the only direct communication with the NOCs and NPCs should be through LOCOG. Woolsack might be able to reach them via LOCOG mailings.
So Woolsack figured they would use the regional training camps to get cushions to the athletes who wanted one. But LOCOG were steadily making the rules about giving gifts to Olympic athletes more and more restrictive. Commercial sponsors are so demanding. Imagine the idea that a bunch of amateurs knitting for the love of it could be allowed to give personal gifts to Olympic athletes at the Games! Only sponsors who have paid for the privilege of giving presents to Olympic athletes can be allowed to do that.
“Finally we were informed that it was no longer possible for us to have the arrangements we had discussed at length with our LOCOG Inspire Co-ordinator for distributing the cushions to the athletes at their regional pre-Games training camps, or indeed any other arrangements for access or contact.”
Woolsack did manage to give cushions to the British athletes going to compete at the Winter Youth Olympic Games. Woolsack were not allowed to ship the cushions to Innsbruck, but the British Olympic Association arranged for the athletes to choose a cushion in the UK (and many took their Woolsack cushion with them to Innsbruck and wrote Woolsack some lovely thank-you letters). But as for giving cushions to the athletes from other countries: it appears that “Inspire a generation” is ranked a long way behind “Make anyone who wants to be involved pay high for the privilege”. The only way this can happen is if the national Olympic Associations are able to get in touch with Woolsack directly and arrange to have their athletes get to choose a Woolsack cushion.
But Woolsack aren’t allowed to get in touch with them to say so.
Knitters…say it with me. Freakin’ muggles. They have no idea who they are messing with. – Yarn Harlot
It has been frustrating to have one after another agreed plan brought to an end by or through LOCOG, but inspired by the efforts the athletes are making to get selected for the Games, we are looking upon this as just another challenge to be met. Now we know how much the athletes love the cushions and want to have them, we will persevere and find ways meet their requests.
News about Woolsack cushions is already reaching athletes through social media and word of mouth and requests for cushions have already been received by us. So we are confident that, while keeping within restrictions placed on us by being a LOCOG Inspire project, we can get the gift of a cushion to all the athletes who want one. We are as determined to succeed in this as the athletes are to excel at the 2012 Games.
Knitters. You think they’re just sitting there, purl stitch, knit stitch, surrounded by wool, clicking away quietly. But really: these are people who have no idea, literally no concept, that there is any project so large they can’t finish it, no challenge too big to be overcome, one stitch at a time.
The International Olympic Committee is a rich and powerful corporation with members from the web of privilege in 204 countries.
Woolsack is a bunch of British knitters.
IOC: give in now. Believe me, they’ll needle you till you do. These are knitters. Don’t try to stitch them up.
Update, Tuesday 22nd May
— Woolsack(@WoolsackUK) May 22, 2012
Update, Saturday 9th June
Alice & I are on BBC Breakfast tomorrow at 6.20 & 9.25 chatting about Woolsack, hopefully knitting, & taking some lovely cushions with us
— Woolsack(@WoolsackUK) June 8, 2012
2 ladies have “been furiously knitting all morning” on BBC News. I don’t know what’s upset them.
— Martin Meiosis (@MusicByMeiosis) June 9, 2012
— UKHand Knitting Ass. (@UKHKA) June 9, 2012
Daily Mail picks up on the Olympic knitters story, only a few months after #PrivateEye first revealed it.
— Richard (@RichardBrennan) June 9, 2012