By Isaiah Peters
The FINA committee banned the caps for not following “the natural form of the head” for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The ruling meant the caps were not eligible or certified for international competition.
After more than a year following their rejection of Soul Caps in July 2021, the caps are now approved.
The U.S. team has only two black female swimmers, Simone Manuel and Natalie Hinds.
Manuel said she was disappointed with the ruling of banning caps from a Black-owned business concerned with Black needs.
“It doesn’t do the best for inclusivity in the sport,” Manuel said.
“Knowing that it is acceptable to compete in this sport at the highest level of sport sends a message that hair should not be a barrier which stops people from participating,” said British swimmer Alice Dearing, the first Black swimmer to represent Great Britain at the Olympic level.
Afro hair is naturally drier and more sensitive than other hair types because of fewer cell layers, so the sodium hypochlorite, chlorine, and bleach are damaging.
“Due to the discriminatory and segregated past of swimming, Black families have been taught to fear swimming,” said Shontel Cargill, a former competitive swimmer.
Soul Cap makes specialized coverings for textured hairstyles such as weaves, braids, etc.
“Perpetuating the racist assumption that Black athletes don’t belong in the sport of swimming,” said Claire Sisco King, an associate professor of communication studies at Vanderbilt University, on FINA’s initial ruling.
FINA apologized for their rejection and asked Soul Cap to re-apply.
“There’s still huge progress to be made for diversity in aquatics,” Soul Cap co-founder Michael Chapman said. “Some of these other barriers include people being priced out of swimming, the lack of swim education in schools, pool closures and cultural stereotypes such as, “Black people don’t swim.”
“We’ve seen what community and collective energy can achieve, so we’re hoping to keep knocking down more of these barriers,” Co-founder of Soul Cap Toks Ahmed. “As a new father and someone who didn’t learn to swim growing up, creating access for the next generation feels even closer to home.”