Swimming caps, designed to encourage Afro swimmers with long, thick, and voluminous hair to practice their sport without barriers, have been banned for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
The International Swimming Federation said the British brand Soul Cap owned by Black did not “conform to the natural shape of the head” and, to the best of their knowledge, were never used by athletes competing in international events and also do not require … caps “of such size and configuration.”
The company, which previously worked with Alice Dearing, the first black swimmer to represent Britain at the Games, has been open about the issue.
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“For younger swimmers, it’s critical to feel included at a young age and see yourself in a sport,” wrote Toks Ahmed, co-founder of Soul Cap, in an Instagram post. “FINA’s recent layoff could deter many younger athletes from following the sport as they advance in local, regional and national competitive swimming.”
Danielle Obe, a founding member of the Black Swimming Association, told The Guardian that the ban “created a sense of exclusion for members of the black and ethnic minority community” as other swimming caps for Afro hair are difficult to find.
“When the (official swimming federations) talk about representation, they need to talk to the communities to find out what the barriers are that keep us from getting involved,” Obe said. “Hair is an important issue for our community.”
Noliwe Rooks, chair and professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, told USA TODAY that the swim cap ban goes along with many other black hair-related bans.
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“While this ban does not specifically address certain black hairstyles in relation to a ban, as was the case with previous bans by the US military and various corporate businesses and workplaces, this ruling ignores the needs of black women, their hair, and their hairstyles to protect when they swim, “said Rooks.
The ban, she said, appears to be due to a lack of understanding of the density or thickness of black hair.
“The ruling specifically mentioned the fact that soul caps don’t hug the scalp, but black hair doesn’t necessarily lie flat against the scalp and can also be of a thickness that makes it impossible to prevent a traditional swim cap from filling up with water as the athlete swims, “said Rooks.
In a statement, FINA said it “is currently reviewing the situation regarding ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products and understands the importance of inclusivity and representation”.
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