Inclusive Swimming Caps Designed for Natural Black Hair Banned from Tokyo Olympics

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJuly 2, 2021

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - JUNE 30: The Olympic Rings are displayed at Akarenga Park on June 30, 2021 in Yokohama, Japan. With less than one month to go before the start of the Tokyo Olympic Games, final preparations are being made to venues despite ongoing concern over the viability of holding the event during the global coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)
Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images

The International Swimming Federation rejected an application from Soul Cap seeking to allow its swim caps, which are inclusive caps designed for swimmers with natural Black, voluminous, thick or curly hair types and styles, for use in official competitions, including the Tokyo Olympics. 

FINA ruled the caps don't follow the "natural form of the head" and added to its "best knowledge the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require ... caps of such size and configuration," per Priya Elan of The Guardian.

FINA's guidelines are followed by the International Olympic Committee for all swimming events at the Summer Games, meaning the caps won't be allowed during competition in Tokyo.

"We hoped to further our work for diversity in swimming by having our swim caps certified for competition, so swimmers at any level don't have to choose between the sport they love and their hair," Soul Cap, a Black-owned company, said in a statement.

Black Swimming Association chairwoman Danielle Obe told Sky Sports the ruling is "not what inclusion is about."

"This will affect younger swimmers, up and coming, who might want to consider taking up elite swimming," Obe said. "It will affect their decision because by and large, hair is a significant barrier to aquatics for—women especially—many people of color from our communities. That should be considered as a product that overcomes this barrier."

Swim England, the sport's governing body in the country, told Sky Sports it would allow the caps for training and competitions under its direction, and would push for future clearance at international events.

Alice Dearing, who recently qualified to become the first Black female swimmer to represent Great Britain in the Olympics, partnered with Soul Cap in June 2020.

"Growing up, I was blessed to have had so much support as I worked my way up to swimming for Great Britain," Dearing said. "But I know that swimming as a sport hasn't always been seen as accessible to people from minority communities. Increasing diversity in the water is a huge passion of mine, so with Soul Cap and these new swimming workshops, we hope we can start to dispel those barriers."

Swimming competition at the Tokyo Olympics is scheduled to begin July 24.