The international swimming federation has sparked outrage after prohibiting swim caps with black hair
, claiming that they do not adhere to the "natural form of the head."
A FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation) spokesperson also stated that athletes have not used and do not require "caps of such size and configuration."
The outpouring of opposition has been so powerful that FINA has agreed to "review" the policy.
The caps designed by the Black-owned British
company Soul Cap
are larger than those used in the Olympics
in order to accommodate fuller and longer hair and braids; however, they are not expected to provide any competitive advantage because they are larger and would likely create more drag, or resistance, for a swimmer.
FINA's policy has been condemned not only as a slap in the face to elite competitive swimmers, but also as a symbol of the sport's callous barriers to young Black swimmers.
The FINA ban is likely to “discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through... competitive swimming,” Soul Cap co-founder Toks Ahmed
observed on social media
. “For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial.”
The decision reinforced the sport's systemic and institutional inequalities, according to Danielle Obe
, a founding member of the Black Swimming Association
in the United Kingdom
caps were designed for Caucasian hair, but Obe claims they do not work
for Black hair because it "defies gravity."
“We need the space
and volume that products like the Soul Caps provide,” she explained, adding, “Inclusivity is understanding that no one head shape is ‘normal.’”
We are extremely disappointed with the @fina1908 decision, which will discourage many younger athletes from ethnic minority communities from pursuing competitive swimming. https://t.co/Je4RNVtEV4
— Black Swimming Association (@BlackSwimAssoc) June 30, 2021
over Soul Caps is viewed as part of a much larger social struggle over acceptance and respect for Black hair and hairstyles in schools
, workplaces, and the military
While the FINA ban does not specifically address Black hairstyles, as have “previous bans from the United States
military and various corporate concerns and workplaces,” Professor Noliwe Rooks, chair of Africana Studies at Brown University
, told USA Today
The ruling stated that Soul Caps do not “hug the scalp,” but “Black hair does not necessarily lay flat against the scalp, and can also have a thickness that makes it impossible to keep a traditional swim cap from filling with water
as the athlete swims,” according to Rooks.
On Friday, FINA agreed to look into "the situation."
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,” according to a statement. “FINA is currently reviewing the situation with regards to ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products, understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation
,” it added.
FINA prohibited the use of Soul Caps in Olympic events as well as local, regional, and state competitions, noting that the caps could be used for "recreational" and "teaching" purposes.
Last year, Soul Cap teamed up with Alice Dearing, the first Black female swimmer to qualify for Great Britain's Olympic team last month.
The uproar over Soul Caps comes on the heels of the controversy surrounding the suspension of African American
sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson after she tested positive for cannabis
, as well as the backlash after Black hammer-thrower Gwen Berry
turned her back on the American flag
during the anthem.