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Olympic Ban on Caps for Black Swimmers Leads to Backlash

Governing body for water sports has prohibited Soul Cap for hair that's 'volume blessed'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 2, 2021 4:35 PM CDT
Updated Jul 4, 2021 7:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – Alice Dearing will be the first female Black swimmer to represent Great Britain at the Olympics in Tokyo, and she'd likely planned to wear her swim cap from Soul Cap, a brand she partnered with last year, during competition. Per the BBC, the Soul Cap brand is a larger swim cap made specially for the "volume blessed"—in other words, swimmers with thick and curly hair or natural Black hairstyles such as Afros, dreadlocks, weaves, or hair extensions, per the BBC. Now, however, the International Swimming Federation, or FINA, has prohibited the Soul Cap swimming cap from the Tokyo Games, saying that to its "best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require ... caps of such size and configuration," and that the Soul Cap doesn't fit "the natural form of the head," per the Guardian. Dearing herself hasn't yet spoken on the ban, but others have, and they're not happy.

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"[The decision] confirms a lack of diversity in [the sport]," says Black Swimming Association founding member Danielle Obe. "Aquatic swimming must do better." The BBC notes Black hair tends to be drier than other types of hair and so needs extra protection from pool chemicals. Obe tells the Guardian that traditional swim caps aren't designed well to contain Black hair, and that other caps like Soul Cap's are hard to find. She and others say these factors add yet another barrier to Black and minority ethnic athletes in a sport dominated by white competitors. "Inclusivity is realizing that no one head shape is 'normal,'" she says. On Wednesday, Soul Caps founders Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed wrote on Instagram that FINA's decision could discourage young Black swimmers from taking part. FINA, meanwhile, responded to the controversy Friday, noting in a statement that it's "currently reviewing the situation" and understands "the importance of inclusivity and representation." (Read more Tokyo Olympics stories.)

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