Olympic Committee Reverses Ban on Swim Cap Designed for Black Hair: 'Seismic' Change

"We cannot allow younger generations to look at a sport and think, for whatever reason, 'that's not for people like me,' " said Olympian Alice Dearing, who pushed for the change

The International Swimming Federation has reversed its former ban on swimming caps made specifically for Black hair.

According to the Associated Press, the sport's governing body FINA has confirmed Soul Caps will be an approved accessory for athletes going forward. "Promoting diversity and inclusivity is at the heart of FINA's work, and it is very important that all aquatic athletes have access to the appropriate swimwear," executive director Brent Nowicki said in a statement.

Before the committee decided to overturn the ban, Olympic swimmer Alice Dearing, an ambassador for the swim cap company, penned a thoughtful essay for The Guardian on how the rule put her and other Black swimmers at a disadvantage.

Dearing's essay explained that the cap is crucial to her success because "the option to wear a swim cap that properly fits gives people the chance to feel confident," in and out of the water. Additionally, Soul Cap "reduces the potential for stressful moments in the changing rooms or poolside."

Moreover, Dearing, who competes for Great Britain in open water distance swimming, emphasized the impact the ban could have on the Black community, including future generations of aspiring swimmers.

"We cannot allow younger generations to look at a sport and think, for whatever reason, 'that's not for people like me'. Sport is a beautiful and powerful thing, which can be such a positive force in individual lives and communities alike. It imparts life skills, global opportunities and confidence, and offers something to pour heart and soul into."

"Crucially, the caps embrace all hairstyles, from afros, locs, braids and curls to wavy and straight hair as being appropriate hairstyles to swim in, and by implication, they challenge a narrow view of what a swimmer of any standard 'should' look like."

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The committee initially banned the swim caps because they said they "did not follow the natural form of the head," according to Dearing, who was frustrated with the committee's explanation.

Alice Dearing
Mike Egerton/PA Images/Getty

"When FINA claimed that, to its 'best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require … caps of such size and configuration,' it frustrated me. It sent the wrong message to swimmers and the world, telling us that the sport can only accommodate a certain version of yourself."

The Olympian felt "relieved and excited" after she learned that the ban was been lifted. "As a Black woman and professional swimmer who loves both having her hair braided and wearing it in its natural, afro form, I know just how seismic this change will be."

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