Swimming hats for Afro hair barred from Olympics as official body says elite athletes ‘don’t require caps of such size’

SOUL CAP – which is designed to accommodate for diverse hair types in swimming – has been denied by FINA (the federation for international competitions in water sports) from their approval process to become certified to wear for competition swimming.

While some swimming caps of a certain size and specification are approved to be worn at the Olympics and international competitions, these larger caps produced by SOUL CAP are not allowed, and athletes will not be able to compete while wearing one.

The swimming caps were barred by FINA on the grounds that to their ‘best knowledge, the athletes competing at the International events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration’.

The FINA Committee went on to describe the swim caps as unsuitable due to them not ‘following the natural form of the head’.

Co-founders of SOUL CAP and best friends Toks Ahmed and Michael Champman say they are disappointed in this ‘failure to acknowledge the diversity of competitive swimmers’, particularly in a year where we have seen as increase in swimmers from ethnic minority backgrounds qualifying for the Olympics.

‘For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial, says Toks.

‘FINA’s recent dismissal could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through local, county and national competitive swimming.

‘How do we achieve participation and representation in the world of competition swimmers, if the governing body stops suitable swimwear being available to those who are underrepresented?’

Discrimination in swimming has a long and dark history.

Many have heard the stereotype that Black people ‘can’t swim’, because Black people’s ‘bones are denser’. While there is no truth in this and the idea is steeped in deep-rooted racism, according to recent figures from Sport England, 95% of Black adults and 80% of Black children do not go swimming, and part of that problem comes down to hair care.

SOUL CAP aims to break down these damaging and pervasive barriers to the sport for people with Black heritage.

‘Swimming never felt like a thing that the people around us were doing when we were kids,’ says Michael.

‘When we were growing up, swimming was never really seen as a Black person’s sport. And that meant the kids weren’t chasing it, the parents weren’t encouraging it, and the teachers at school weren’t promoting it.’

Toks adds that it isn’t only the years of being told swimming isn’t a Black person’s sport that creates this narrative – it’s also the lack of available kit for your hair type – and not seeing many other people of colour competing.

‘We feel the rejection comes from lack of thought, without full consideration for diversity and the different requirements non-white athletes may have,’ Toks tells africafrique.com

‘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.’

SOUL CAP was created in 2017 when Michael and Toks started adult swimming lessons for the first time. They met a woman with Afro hair who was struggling with the size of her swim cap.

Since then, the brand has provided 40,000 swim caps to swimmers globally, and they have partnered with elite swimmer Alice Dearing who is set to make history as the first Black women to represent Great Britain in swimming at the Olympics.

We have contacted FINA directly for comment. We will update this piece if we receive a response.

By Africafrique and Agencies

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