Olympic Committee Bans Headgear Designed For Black Swimmers
Soul Cap founders said the rule discourages diversity in swimming.
July 02, 2021 at 1:20 pm
Olympic swimmers will now be barred from using swimming caps made by Soul Cap, a Black-owned company that produces headgear specifically designed to help athletes compete without damaging their hair. The federation for international competitions in water sports made the decision this week, saying the caps don't follow "the natural form of the head," People reported.
FINA, which is recognized by the International Olympic Committee, added that "the athletes competing at the International events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration."
Soul Cap founders Toks Ahmed and Michael Chapman said the latest rule discourages diversity in swimming.
"We hoped to further our work for diversity in swimming by having our swim caps certified for competition, so swimmers at any level don't have to choose between the sport they love and their hair," the founders stated. "For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial. FINA's recent dismissal could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through local, county and national competitive swimming."
The company, which was created in 2017, continues to urge the committee to be more receptive to change.
"We feel there's always room for improvement, but there's only so much grassroots and small brands can do — we need the top to be receptive to positive change," Soul Cap stated. "A huge thanks to all who have supported us and our work so far. We don't see this as a setback, but a chance to open up a dialogue to make a bigger difference."
Danielle Obe, the founding member of the Black Swimming Association, said FINA's rule highlights the inherent systemic and institutional inequalities surrounding the sport.
“We believe that it confirms a lack of diversity in (the sport),” Obe told The Guardian. “Aquatic swimming must do better.”
She adds that other swim caps for afro hair are available, but they are difficult to find.
“If I walked into my local health club, gym or leisure centre, could I readily pick up one of these (swim caps for afro hair)? No,” Obe said. “Can I walk into a general retail store like Asda, Tesco or Sports Direct and pick one up? No.”
FINA's latest ruling comes during an era where Black athletes have been making breakthroughs in swimming. Simone Manuel emerged as one of the trailblazers in 2016 when she became the first Black female swimmer to win individual Olympic gold, ESPN reported.
In an interview with ESPN last year, Manuel said the experience of being a minority in swimming has driven her to make a change.
"I'm always seeking ways to give back to my community or inspire others to dream beyond traditional assumptions or stereotypes or advocate for change or equality," she said. "And I want to continue to do that in the swim space. I've done so through my very existence and the experiences that I have had. And I've done that through LeBron James' I Promise School, where I worked on the swimming curriculum."