A ban on Soul Caps, which are designed for swimmers with afro hair, could be reversed – including at Tokyo 2020 – amid a backlash after concerns that the move might discourage black athletes from taking up the sport.
Soul Cap, the brand responsible for producing the swimming caps, say that they were informed by FINA – the worldwide governing body of water sports – that the caps were contrary to the rules in competitive swimming because they do not follow “the natural form of the head“.
However, FINA have since announced that they are “reviewing the situation” after a fierce backlash, amid claims that it could have a negative impact on black athletes participating in the sport and said in a statement that they are aware of “the importance of inclusivity and representation“.
“FINA is committed to ensuring that all aquatics athletes have access to appropriate swimwear for competition where this swimwear does not confer a competitive advantage,” the statement added.
They also confirmed that they intend to use Soul Caps at FINA development centers across the globe as they continue to promote various water sports worldwide.
The caps, which were initially disapproved of by FINA, fits over an athlete’s head and can cover dreadlocks, afros, weaves, braids and other types of hairstyles predominantly associated with black sportspeople.
The caps were designed, in part at least, to provide black athletes added protection to chemicals in swimming pools which are known to affect black athletes’ hair more negatively than their Caucasian peers.
Speaking to the bisnisheboh, Kejai Terrelonge said that protection of her hair is one of the primary barriers that she and other black athletes face when contemplating a swimming career.
“Using the smaller swimming caps that everyone else would use – it would fit on my head but because I put [protective] oil in my hair, when I was swimming it would just keep sliding off and my hair would get wet,” said Kejai, 17.
I’m utterly shocked and disgusted to hear @fina1908’s new ban on Afro swimming caps which penalises & further segregates the black community in the pinnacle of sport! 🏊🏾♂️🤎 It makes no sense whatsoever… 1/2 #Diversity #Inclusion #BLM #Decoloniality https://t.co/YtBRnkZwjP
— Michael Gunning (@MichaelGunning1) July 2, 2021
Swim England, meanwhile, waded into the row to say that Soul Caps are allowed at domestic competitions in England and that they would be petitioning FINA to allow their usage in various other markets.
“Swimming hats designed for afro hair can reduce barriers to the sport for under-represented groups, including black people,” the statement said in part.
Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed-Salawudeen, founders of Soul Caps, said that they were pleased with the support they had received from the wider swimming community – and said that the move could help open up the sport to a far more diverse base of athletes.
“We didn’t think it was a sport for us, it wasn’t a thing amongst our friends and it wasn’t encouraged by our school or parents,” they said.
“After speaking with our mums, sisters, friends and realising the lack of suitable swimwear for swimmers with afro hair, braids, locs or any type of voluminous hair – we decided to create our own.”
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Jamaican swimmer Michael Gunning indicated his opposition to FINA’s initial stance on Twitter in recent days, writing: “I’m utterly shocked and disgusted to hear FINA’s new ban on Afro swimming caps which penalizes & further segregates the black community in the pinnacle of sport! It makes no sense whatsoever.
“This is everything against what I’ve been working so hard towards with my advocation & representation in elite swimming. We must teach those young black swimmers out there that swimming is for ALL… no matter what your authenticity!“
Gunning’s stance was echoed by fans of the sport, with one writing: “I totally agree with you. This is utterly ridiculous and totally discriminating. I would have thought that the Olympic committee would have been fully inclusive but this proves they’re not.”