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Swim cap designed for natural Black hair denied approval for use during Olympics

Tokyo Olympics
Posted at 2:51 PM, Jul 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 14:59:08-04

A British company that designs swim caps made explicitly for Black hair says it was denied approval for its products to be worn by athletes at next month's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Soul Cap was founded in England in 2017 by two Black men who wanted to create a swim cap that works with more voluminous and natural hairstyles like Afros and dreadlocks. The swim caps produced by the company are roomier than a typical swim cap and come in sizes that can accommodate mid-back hairstyles.

The company has even partnered with Alice Dearing, the first Black woman to represent Great Britain in Olympic swimming.

Soul Cap says it applied to FINA — the international regulatory body of water sports, including swimming — to have its caps approved for use for the Tokyo Games. However, the company says FINA rejected the application.

"We'd sent a variety of our sizes to FINA," a Soul Cap spokesperson told Quartz. "But we were actually rejected on registration, which meant we couldn't even appeal their decision."

Soul Cap is not currently listed on FINA's "approved swimwear" webpage.

According to the Runners' World, FINA rejected the application because the caps don't fit "the natural form of the head," and to their "best knowledge the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require…caps of such size and configuration."

Toks Ahmed-Salawudeen, one of the founders of Soul Cap, said in a statement on Twitter that FINA's decision could set back diversity in swimming.

"For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial," Ahmed-Salawudeen said. "FINA's recent dismissal could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through local, county and national competitive swimming."

"We don't see this as a set back, but a chance to open up a dialogue to make a bigger difference in aquatics," the company said in sharing Ahmed-Salawudeen's statement.

The U.K.'s Black Swimming Association, of which Dearing is a founder, also denounced FINA's decision.

"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 - one that will discourage many younger athletes from ethnic minority communities from pursuing competitive swimming," the organization tweeted. "The Soul Cap swim caps were barred by FINA because 'to their best knowledge, the athletes competing at international events never used or required to use caps of such size and configuration'. We believe this statement confirms the lack of diversity in elite swimming and the lack of urgency for change."