Olympic swim cap ban: What does the Soul Cap decision mean for black swimmers at the 2021 Games?

With the Tokyo 2021 Olympics set to begin in a few days, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) continued to face backlash over its decision to ban a swim cap designed for natural dark hair.

FINA told Soul Cap, a UK-based brand, that its swim caps could not be approved for use in competitions, including the Olympics, because they do not follow “the natural shape of the skin. head, “according to a BBC report.

Despite public criticism, FINA has not lifted the ban, and with less than a week to go before the first swimming events start, it is increasingly unlikely that the cap will be allowed to be used in time. for the start of the games.

Here is what you need to know about the Soul Cap and the swimming cap ban at the Olympics.

What is the Soul Cap?

In 2017, Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed-Salawudeen invented the Soul Cap, after hearing the story of an afro-haired woman struggling with her swim cap, according to the Soul Cap website. Over the next few weeks, the couple learned about the challenges of people with “thick, curly and voluminous hair,” which they said were being overlooked.

Chapman and Ahmed-Salawudeen created the Soul Cap, which the website describes as “an extra-large swim cap created for swimmers who struggle with their hair.” Over 30,000 swim caps have been shipped, read the site.

These swim caps are best suited to afro, weaves, extensions, dreadlocks, thick curly hair, and since natural black hair is often drier than white hair, it is important to protect it from swimming pool water which contains discoloration, which can damage dark hair.

In a New York Times report, UK-based Black Swimming Association president and co-founder Danielle Obe said the Soul Cap is just an alternative to other swim caps.

“We want to be included, all we ask is to have the ability to have equipment that has been designed to address the problem of our hair, which is a significant barrier to participating in aquatic activities in them together, “Obe told The Times. “If FINA were aware that this was a major obstacle for our community, I think this decision would have been made a little differently.”

Former Olympic medalist swimmer Lia Neal has never worn the Soul Cap during her career, but told The Times she knew she would sacrifice the health of her hair to become a competitive swimmer, noting that she had probably pulled her cap “up 20 times in practice.”

“It’s a hindrance, a nuisance that a lot of my counterparts don’t have to worry about because they don’t have to use the same type of hair products as I do.”

Why is the swimming cap prohibited?

FINA has banned the swimming cap because it does not follow “the natural shape of the head,” Soul Cap co-founders told the BBC.

In addition, Soul Cap told the BBC that FINA told them “to the best of their knowledge, athletes competing in international events have never used, nor need to use, caps of this size and configuration”.

However, the rationale behind the ban does not seem to stand up to scrutiny. The Soul Cap is made of silicone, the same material as other swim caps, and because it’s taller than most, it could even put swimmers at a disadvantage, according to the Times report.

Chantique Carey-Payne, head swimming coach at the University of Guelph, said the FINA ban “was incredibly flawed” in an interview with CBC.

“They said there was never a need to use the caps. They never needed them and no one ever complained about them in advance. But they were never available. neither, ”said Carey-Payne. “I think it was just a very careless statement on their part to put aside the worries of an entire community about their hair and put it together too, that has never been necessary in the past, so we don’t have to. ‘we don’t need it now. “

Obe told the Guardian that the Black Swimming Association believes this “confirms a lack of diversity” in swimming.

“We need the space and volume that products like soul caps allow. Inclusiveness is realizing that no head shape is ‘normal’, “Obe said.

In an Instagram post, the Soul Cap co-founders wrote that they hope they can promote diversity in swimming by getting them approved for competition “so swimmers of all skill levels don’t have to choose which sport they want. love and their hair. “

“For young swimmers, feeling included and seen in a sport at a young age is crucial. The recent FINA layoff could discourage many young athletes from playing the sport as they progress in local competitive swimming,” regional and national “, we can read in the message. “We believe there is always room for improvement, but there isn’t a lot that small brands and small brands can do – we need the top to be receptive to positive change.

“A big thank you to everyone who has supported us and our work so far. We don’t see this as a setback, but a chance to open a dialogue to make a bigger difference.”

Will the ban be lifted for future events?

In a July 2 statement, FINA said it recognizes “the comments and feedback” on the Soul Cap and said it is “committed to ensuring that all aquatic athletes have access to appropriate swimwear. for competition where these swimsuits do not confer a competitive edge. “

“FINA is currently reviewing the situation regarding ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products, understanding the importance, inclusiveness and representation,” the statement said. “There are no restrictions on ‘Soul Cap’ swim caps for recreational and educational purposes. FINA appreciates the efforts of ‘Soul Cap’ and other suppliers to ensure that everyone has the chance. to enjoy the water FINA will also speak with the maker of the “Soul Cap” about the use of their products through the FINA Development Centers.

“FINA expects its consideration of ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products to be part of broader initiatives to ensure there are no barriers to participation in swimming,” which is both a sport and a vital skill. “

There has been no recent update from FINA on the ban.

According to a CNN report, the European Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup sent a letter to IOC and World Athletics Presidents Thomas Bach and Sebastian Coe calling for the swim cap ban to be lifted, saying the sports community World and the IOC has “institutional structures and rules that specifically exclude people of color and black women” and later added “May the best person win.”

FINA did not respond to CNN’s story. The IOC “referred the matter to the Tokyo Games press office” and World Athletics “referred CNN to FINA,” the report said.

A Change.org petition launched by Sabrina Thompson Mitchell has collected more than 70,000 signatures calling on the Olympic Swimming Federation to also lift the ban. Mitchell wrote in the petition that she wanted the world to sign the petition to be sent to FINA to express “our outrage at their racial discrimination during the Olympics” and asked others to buy Soul Caps and post a photo on social media with the hashtag # SoulCapInTokyo will launch a visual campaign of solidarity with black swimmers “who want to compete in the Olympics wearing a cap suited to their hair.”

“We are in 2021. No one has time to support racist and one-sided bans like this. NOT ON OUR WATCH,” Mitchell wrote in the petition.

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