International Academic Competitions, the parent organization of the US Geography Olympiad, regrets to inform its participants, their schools, and their families that for ludicrous and arbitrary reasons, we have temporarily been forced to rename the US Geography Olympiad the US Geography Championships. This is due to the obstinacy of the US Olympic Committee in selectively enforcing a heretofore little-known provision of the Ted Stevens Act which claims that the US Olympic Committee has the sole right to use the word “Olympiad.”
Let’s examine this a bit further…
The most common response that IAC staff have noted upon notifying people of this change has been laughter and complete disillusionment. Surely, they say, it’s not like the US Olympic Committee would have something better to do, such as actually supporting Team USA athletes rather than increasing executive pay, or protecting athletes from sexual predators, or dealing with administrative turmoil, or handling that rarest of things in Washington, DC: a true bipartisan consensus that the USOC has failed in its mission.
No, no – that’s all rubbish, hogwash, and poppycock: the priority of the US Olympic Committee is instead to sic its lawyers upon USGO, and demand that we change our name. Wait, wait, you say… aren’t there numerous other US academic competitions in astronomy, computer science, biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, general science, linguistics, and numerous other fields that also use the name “Olympiad?” And hasn’t our competition been called the US Geography Olympiad since 2013 without any resulting crisis brewing among the athletes of Team USA? All true, but nevertheless, in repeated email exchanges with the lawyers of the USOC, they only claimed that the Mathematics Olympiad and the Science Olympiad (i.e. the general science one, not the individual science olympiads, such as the US Physics or Chemistry Olympiads) in their eyes were somehow legitimate (although the USOC has failed to offer us any proof that they are in fact pursuing similar legal action against any of the other competitions linked above). If you can see the logic in this, please let us know; we’ve been trying for 8 months without success.
Furthermore, while the Olympic movement is worldwide in scope, only the USOC seems to care about the use of the term “Olympiad” in reference to academic olympiads. Not a single other national Olympic committee that we know of (and we’ve looked hard) enforces a prohibition on their countries’ respective national academic olympiads. After all, there’s a Canadian Geography Olympiad, Hong Kong Geography Olympiad, Russian Geography Olympiad, and many more… Keep in mind that this also prohibits any of the International Olympiads (i.e. the world championship level events for each subject such as the International Geography Olympiad, International History Olympiad, International Chemistry Olympiad, etc.) aside from the Mathematics Olympiad from ever taking place in the USA. This represents a loss to the American economy, is an embarrassment for American competition organizers, and represents a loss of prestige to America and American students on the international stage.
Meanwhile IAC offered to do any or all of the following in exchange for having the US Olympic Committee consent to us continuing to use the term Olympiad:
-Send a donation to Team USA athletes each year
-Offer to partner with the USOC to launch a new program whereby small businesses and non-profits could become official sponsors instead of just large corporations
-Give Team USA a platform on our websites and at our events to promote Team USA athletes, sign up new supporters, and reach hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, family members, and other people who would be keen on supporting American athletes (but who are now going to think that the USOC is even more short-sighted, incompetent, and obstinate than they already did…)
The response of the tunnel-vision toadies at the USOC was to ignore these constructive suggestions, and insist that they need to target the USGO to protect its trademark. That said, the USOC has clearly not enforced its mandate on numerous occasions to prohibit others from using the words Olympic or Olympiad – aside from academic competitions, just google “Olympic pizza”, or how about this housing complex we drove past yesterday in IAC’s hometown of Burlington, VT, or even a major home hardware brand (which has the mysterious and hard to guess URL of www.olympic.com). Those USOC lawyers must be looking really hard to find and enforce trademark violations!
So, in conclusion, US Olympic Committee, you’ve won a temporary battle that was not a fight worth picking, but you are very clearly losing the public relations war. We hope that the USOC comes to its senses as soon as possible and returns to their mission of protecting and supporting America’s athletes, rather than waging a senseless vendetta against America’s top young geographers.