FINA, an international governing body for aquatic sports, is facing major backlash after banning swimmers from using SOUL Caps in the 2021 Summer Olympic Games. Designed by Black entrepreneurs, SOUL Caps offer a unique swim cap that is designed specifically for diverse hair types. However, FINA banned swimmers from using the brand because it claims elite swimmers "don’t require caps of such size." Adding on, the international federation claims that the swim cap does not "follow the natural form of the head."
Making the decision even more disappointing, 24-year-old Alice Dearing became the first Black woman to earn a spot on Great Britain's swim team last week. In response, the Black Swimming Association called FINA's ruling "disappointing" and will "discourage many younger athletes from 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?" SOUL Cap Co-Founders Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed asked.
"[FNA's decision] could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through local, county, and national competitive swimming".
After SOUL Cap raised issues with the ruling, several activists, athletes and fans chimed in to offer their thoughts. World Afro Day CEO Michelle de Leon said the decision was "deeply worrying."
"Current elite athletes may have straightened their hair or keep their hair short to use traditional swimming caps. What about the history of chemical straightening techniques, used by Black women in these sports to gain the European aesthetic?" de Leon asked.
"There is a new generation of athletes, who will not want to compromise their natural Afro hair or health to be a swimming champion."
Despite pushback from critics across the board, FINA appears unwilling to reverse their ruling before ht Tokyo Olympics begin later this month.