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Afro Swimming ‘Soul Cap’ Ban Could Be Reconsidered For Olympic Athletes

by eleanor / last updated July 12, 2021

Afro Swimming Soul Cap

Swimming organisation FINA (Fédération Internationale De Natation), recently announced that it will not allow Soul Caps to be worn by swimmers, which are specially designed for the needs of those Afro or textured hair.

Why are swim caps for Afro hair possibly being banned?

FINA, an international federation recognised by the International Olympic Committee for administering international competitions in water sports has said that Soul Caps are not suitable for international swimming competitions as they do not follow “the natural form of the head”.

According to MetroFINA rejected the application for Soul Caps to be worn during competition in the Tokyo Olympics.

What are Soul Caps?

Soul Caps are designed to cater to Afro hair, protecting dreadlocks, weaves, braids and allowing more room than most swimming caps available to prevent them from slipping off the head.

Soul Cap co-founder Toks Ahmed said in an Instagram post: “For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial,” adding, “FINA’s recent dismissal could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through local, county and national competitive swimming.”

The news comes as Alice Dearing was celebrated the first Black person to qualify for the GB Olympics Team just last week.

The Black Swimming Association issued a statement acknowledging the news: “A week after celebrating Alice Dearing becoming the first Black-Brit to qualify for the Olympics, we are extremely disappointed to see the FINA decision,” the statement reads. “[It is] one that will discourage many younger athletes from ethnic minority communities from pursuing competitive swimming.”

However, after facing backlash from its decision, FINA now says it’s “reviewing the situation” after many said the move is excluding under-represented people from the sport.

In a statement, FINA said it understood “the importance of inclusivity and representation”, stating: “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”. It added that it would begin conversations with Soul Cap about using the hats at FINA’s development centres, where swimmers are trained.

What do hairdressers make of the news?

“This is extremely difficult to put into words as I am very upset with this. It’s very concerning because it is completely discriminating and upsetting to see an organisation come out with something like this,” said Cimone.
“As a platform that celebrates elites athletes and cultures from all over the world, it is very hard to understand why they would do something like this as it is not inclusive at all,” she added.
“Given that Textured hair is so fragile, it needs to be protected at all costs. For me this is a decision that needs to be revoked immediately. Once again it feels as though when we move one step forwards we move 10 steps back. Sadly the Black community is left upset and angered once again,” she said.

“First of all, the swimming authorities should be doing all they can to encourage people from all ethnicities to be involved in competitive swimming. So it would appear that this is a poor decision both on a practical, as well as inclusivity, level. It’s also discriminatory against black swimmers and anyone else with curly hair who needs to use a Soul Cap or similar swimming cap,” said Anne.

“However the international swimming authority FINA is currently reviewing the situation with regards to Soul Cap and similar products, understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation. So the good news is that they have listened to the pushback on their decision and hopefully will see sense and rescind it,” she added.

“Unfortunately, society still has a problem with natural Afro hair. I see this far too often in the UK hair industry with many hairdressers unable to work with type 4C hair, and making excuses for not addressing the issue by taking responsibility for their own CPD and getting trained. It’s a disappointing decision that we do hope can be resolved very soon,” she said.

Charlene Malcolm

“Not only is it an uneducated and invalid decision, it is also a huge step back in our community. The Soul Cap gives no advantage to swimming abilities, it’s only purpose is to be kinder to Afro hairstyles and more efficient for protecting Afro hair whilst competing, yet innovative and inclusive new product designs are ignored in favour of old rules,” she said.

“We’ve made big waves in recent movements, really pushing forward for our culture and hair styles to not only be accepted, but welcomed too and once again, with no valid reason, we are faced with another form of systemic racism and no willingness to be more inclusive. Decisions like this have lasting effects and send out a clear message that different hair types and textures are still an issue,” she added.

Find out more about Habia’s partnership with Cantu that aims to make hairdressing education more diverse.

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