The federation for international competitions in water sports (FINA) has just blocked athletes — including those competing in this year’s Tokyo Olympics — from wearing headwear from a Black-owned swimming-cap brand called Soul Cap. Soul Cap, whose company motto is “haircare for the volume-blessed,” designs swimming caps specially for athletes with natural, textured hair and those who wear their hair in styles like braids, locs, or Afros that won’t fit comfortably under traditional caps. The UK-based brand recently applied to receive official approval for its products to be worn during FINA-recognized competitions, but its application was denied earlier this week.
According to a report from Metro UK, FINA claims to have barred the caps because “the athletes competing at the International events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration” and they don’t follow “the natural form of the head.”
This ruling is problematic because not only does it discourage Black men, women, and children from participating in swimming competitively because of their inability to use products that will actually protect their hair from potential chlorine damage, but it also implies that the only people who deserve to swim on a competitive level (and have their needs served while doing it) are non-Black people.
Following the news, Soul Cap’s cofounders Toks Ahmed and Michael Chapman released a joint statement via the company’s official Instagram page next to a gallery of pull quotes from the Metro UK report.
“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 caption reads. “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.”
Ahmed and Chapman continued: “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.”
FINA’s decision is just another example of how we have a long way to go to make sports more inclusive for Black athletes. The committee has yet to respond to the criticism, but supporters of the brand remain diligent in expressing their disapproval of the news via social media. We can only hope someone finally listens.
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