FIRST Global Challenge a Success -- for the Wrong Reason
Roopinder Tara posted on July 23, 2017 | | 1193 views

For organizer Dean Kamen, best known for his invention of the Segway scooter, getting 160 teams of 15 to 18-year olds from all over the world to Washington DC may have been his biggest challenge. He pulled it off with the first ever FIRST Global Challenge, just recently concluded, but not before causing a ridiculous amount of publicity, almost all of it unintended.

At the center of the controversy was a team of girls from Afghanistan that was at first denied entry to the US (thanks to newly instituted travel bans).

They made it. The Afghani robotics team weary from the long trip and immigration drama on the way to the US had to field a thousand reporters that converged on them after being denied entry to the country. They didn’t win, placing 114th which was better than Canada (129th), the UK (137th) and the US (141st). They also received a prize for “Most Courageous.” Picture by Liam James Doyle/NPR
They made it. The Afghani robotics team weary from the long trip and immigration drama on the way to the US had to field a thousand reporters that converged on them after being denied entry to the country. They didn’t win, placing 114th which was better than Canada (129th), the UK (137th) and the US (141st). They also received a prize for “Most Courageous.” Picture by Liam James Doyle/NPR

Members from Burundi, a strife-ridden little country just south of Rwanda, used the opportunity to visit the US to defect to Canada.

Picking Up Balls…What Else Have You Got?

Ordinarily, coverage of such an event suggests a small variety of angles. Let’s see… a glorious unification of children, our next generation, empowered by technology, the hope of breaking down borders, working together in a friendly competitions, doing with technology what the Olympics does with sport. It could be a total do-good, heart warmer of a story, a chance to show cute kids, girl geeks and girls with geeks, international brotherhood/sisterhood… For public consumption, you needed something besides handmade toys picking up balls. Then maybe the story would rate a little link somewhere on the CNN site.

Dean Kamen (with Mike) and Ivanka Trump, who opened Day Two of the 2017 FIRST Global.Picture from first.global.com.
Dean Kamen (with mike) and Ivanka Trump, who opened Day Two of the 2017 FIRST Global.Picture from first.global.com.

But the event was in Washington DC, embroiled in the turmoil of President Trump and his administration being covered by a thousand reporters. First daughter Ivanka Trump may have thrown out the first ball on the 2nd day of the competition. For the reporters who had done a multitude of stories on immigration, the Wall, the Supreme Court decisions, the refugee crisis… now tired of scouring the halls of Congress, squeezing gossip from aides and talked to old men about bipartisan politics, here was a fresh angle. How the travel ban affects not just the innocents, the young, but the technologically gifted. And it was right in their back yard.

So rather than take umbrage about the media totally not getting it, or coming to his event for the wrong reasons, I’m sure Kamen realized the benefit of all the publicity.

As Oscar Wilde once said” The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

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