What Does Banning the Black Haired Swimming Cap Mean for the Olympics?


Ahead of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, which kicks off this month, members of the International Swimming Federation, known as FINA, are reconsidering their ban on a cap designed for black hair.

The Soul Cap product is meant to accommodate thicker, curlier hair textures for a better fit and to protect hair from chlorine. FINA declined to comment on the state of the review process, but said in a statement released July 2 that the governing body is “currently reviewing the situation with ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products, understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation. ”

The change comes after the backlash and an interview with the founders of Soul Cap. told the BBC The logic behind FINA first decision “Athletes competing in international events have never used or need to wear hats of this size and configuration” and that the Soul Cap did not follow the “natural shape of the head”.

FINA’s July 2 statement said the governing body is “committed to ensuring that all watersports athletes have access to appropriate swimwear for competition where these swimsuits do not provide a competitive advantage.”

The Soul Cap was invented in the UK in 2017 by Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed-Salawudeen. While taking an adult swimming lesson, the duo realized that black swimmers could benefit from a swim cap with extra space at the crown to fit more voluminous natural hairstyles like braids, curls and Afros.

The founders applied and were rejected to officially register their products with FINA for use in Olympic competition. (There are no restrictions on Soul Cap swim caps for recreational and educational purposes.)

Two-time Olympic medalist Lia Neal, who made history as the second Black female swimmer to make the U.S. Olympic team, has never used the Soul Cap, but she thinks the backlash she faced for her initial decision by FINA was progress for the sport overall. “This is much bigger than banning some kind of hat,” he said.

one 2020 study published in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education links.systematic exclusion from public poolsBlack teens are 2.6 times more likely to die from drowning, as swimming is not just a sport but a potentially life-saving skill.

According to Danielle Obe, president and founder of the Black Swimming Association, an organization focused on increasing diversity in aquatic sports in the UK, engagement is the first step towards making Black swimmers more visible and more willing to water.

“We want to be involved, all we want is to have the option of having equipment designed to address the problem of hair, which is a major barrier to participation in water sports as a whole. ”said Mrs. Obe. “I think this decision would have been made a little differently if FINA had been aware that this was a major hurdle for our community.”

Ms. Obe said that while hats made by major athletic equipment companies like Speedo have long been the traditional choice in water sports, the Soul Cap is just an alternative option. Made of silicone, the Soul Cap is not materially different from many other swimming caps. Paradoxically, it can be seen as a competitive disadvantage by many swimmers, as it is larger than most swim caps.

Even beyond the elite athletic world, the legislation surrounding what is and isn’t acceptable for Black hair has long been a point of contention, and in some cases simply racist.

in 2019California became the first state to ban natural hair discrimination when the State Senate passed the so-called Crown Act. (The Crown stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.”) Similar laws passed in New York, Delaware, and Nebraska, among other states, require employers and public schools to ban hairstyles such as cornrows or Black employees and students. prevents him from penalizing athletes. because they prefer to style their hair in certain ways culturally.

Ms. Neal, 26, of black and Chinese ancestry, who started swimming at the age of 6, said the health of her naturally curly hair was a sacrifice she knew she had to make throughout her career. competitive swimmer (Announced it pension from swimming in May of this year.)

“I’m probably pulling my hat up 20 times in practice,” he said, while wearing a standard swimming cap.

“It’s a barrier, a nuisance that many of my colleagues don’t have to worry about because they don’t have to use the same type of hair products that I use,” she added.

Being part of a team full of black and brown swimmers nurtured her, said Erin Adams, a 31-year-old doctor who grew up swimming in the South Central Swimming League in Los Angeles and later competed as a Division 1 swimmer at Columbia University. sports love.

But when he finished high school and went to college, he noticed that the number of swimmers who looked like him was decreasing. He thinks it’s partly because of the hair.

“A lot of people in my family didn’t learn to swim because, you know, their hair wouldn’t stay straight or they would be very unruly or whatever,” she said. “So when I was younger I always had braids in my hair and I don’t know why it doesn’t bother me that my hair is different from my swimming peers.” While the silicone caps he used in training were comfortable enough, the latex caps he used in swimming matches were not.

“The ones for the race were very tight on my sides,” he said. “I hated it. I used to do these long braids in Columbia, just like people on 125th Street did my hair and it fell on my back, so it was torture to put my hair in that hat.” Ms. Adams added that she “would love to have a bigger bonnet.”

She said FINA’s decision — even symbolically — felt like another obstacle for Black swimmers to participate in the sport, especially for Black women who “usually have more hair.”

“We are always in control of what we can wear, what our body looks like and how our hair looks,” she said. “They try to make it harder for us to be comfortable when participating.”

Miles Simon, a young psychology student from Atlanta, who swam in trials for the Tokyo Olympics this summer and was the second Olympic trial qualifier in any sport from Howard University, a historically Black university, said he wanted to understand why the hat was banned. .

“Help me understand why, then maybe I can see it through your eyes, but right now I’m not sure why some of these rules or prohibitions are in effect,” said Mr. Simon. He plans to compete to join the Olympic team in 2024.


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