A swim cap designed especially for black swimmers has been banned from the Tokyo Olympics because it does not “follow the natural form of the head”.
Soul Cap, the company that designed the swim caps says it makes caps to fit over and protect dreadlocks, afros, weaves, braids, and thick and curly hair.
Afro hair is naturally drier than other hair because it has fewer cell layers. The sodium hypochlorite – or bleach – found in swimming pools can dry it out more, leading to damage.
But the decision by FINA, the water sports world governing body, to not allow it to be used at international sporting events sparked backlash. Outspoken swimmers and people involved in the sport said it would only serve to discourage black people from the sport.
“FINA’s recent dismissal could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through local, county and national competitive swimming,” Soul Cap co-founder Toks Ahmed wrote in an Instagram post.
Owing to the criticism, Fina says it is reviewing its decision, saying it understood “the importance of inclusivity and representation”.
“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 said in a statement.
But it still won’t be allowing the caps to be used at the Olympics, at least not yet. In the meantime, it said it would speak to Soul Cap about using the hats at Fina’s development centres, which train swimmers around the world.