Athletes Not Permitted to Wear Swimming Caps Designed for Natural Hair at Tokyo Olympics
Soul Cap, a Black-owned brand that creates swimming caps for natural hair, was denied certification for approved Olympic swim gear by the federation for international competitions in water sports
A Black-owned swimming cap brand has been denied certification to be used as swim gear at the Tokyo Olympics.
On Wednesday, Metro reported that FINA, the federation for international competitions in water sports, recognized by the International Olympic Committee, denied an application for swim gear brand Soul Cap to certify its products for competition, including the Olympic Games.
The outlet states that the FINA committee said to their "best knowledge, the athletes competing at the International events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration," adding that the caps don't follow "the natural form of the head."
Soul Cap, created in 2017, is a company that designs swimming caps specifically for natural hair in order for athletes to compete easily without struggling with cap size or the threat of damaging their hair. Following the decision, the company released a statement on social media explaining their disappointment in the decision and what it means for inclusivity within the sport.
"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," said co-founders Toks Ahmed and Michael Chapman. "For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial. FINA's recent dismissal could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through local, county and national competitive swimming."
The statement continued: "We feel there's always room for improvement, but there's only so much grassroots and small brands can do — we need the top to be receptive to positive change. A huge thanks to all who have supported us and our work so far. We don't see this as a setback, but a chance to open up a dialogue to make a bigger difference."
Ahmed and Chapman said their goal is to increase diversity in swimming, a sport that has seen minimal participation from Black athletes, after listening to stories from athletes and seeing a "real problem."
Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel — who is the first Black woman to earn an individual medal in Olympic swimming — opened up to PEOPLE last year about her own experience in the sport and why she wants to use her platform to speak out against racism and encourage people of color to feel comfortable participating in swimming.
"I think that my journey in the sport of swimming as a Black woman has been one with many trials and tribulations," Manuel, 24, said in July 2020.
"It's very obvious that it's rooted in the thinking that Black people can't swim, shouldn't swim or can't be successful in the sport of swimming," she continued. "I've gotten responses like that. I've gotten laughed at when I've told people I swim...Swimming is what I love to do, and I'm not going to let someone stand in my way."