After the International Swimming Federation (FINA) banned a Black-owned swim cap, Black swimmers rallied together to push back against the ban and what it means for diversity in the sport.
“This is so much bigger than banning a type of cap,” two-time Olympic medalist swimmer Lisa Neal told The New York Times.
American history points to systemic racism keeping generations of Black people out of swimming pools, decreasing representation in the sport and increasing rates of death by drowning in Black children, according to a study by the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education. Neal is only the second Black female swimmer in history to make the US Olympic team.
The governing body is currently reviewing its decision to ban Soul Cap, the swim cap designed by Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed-Salawudeen in 2017 to specifically protect Black hair from chlorine.
“We want to be included, all we’re asking for is to have the option to have a piece of equipment that has been designed to cater to the issue of our hair, which is a significant barrier to participation in aquatics a a whole,” Danielle Obe, founder of the Black Swimming Association in Britain, told The Times. “If FINA was aware that that was a major barrier for our community, I think that decision would have been made slightly differently,” Obe added.
Even with legislation like the CROWN Act being pushed through several states, hair, some Black swimmers shared, is a barrier to getting more of us in the sport.
“It’s an obstacle, a nuisance that a lot of my counterparts don’t have to worry about because they don’t have to use the same kind of hair products that I do,” Neal said.
Erin Adams, a 31-year-old physician and former Division 1 swimmer at Columbia University, told The Times she “would have loved to have had a bigger swim cap.”
“The [latex swim caps used for racing] were so tight on my edges,” Adams said. “I hated it. I would have these long braids at Columbia, like the people on 125th Street would be doing my hair and it would be down my back, so me putting my hair in that cap was torture,” Adams explained.
Adams said she feels like FINA’s ruling on the Soul Cap is just another instance of Black women getting policed.
“We’re always policed on what we can wear and what our bodies are looking like, and what our hair is looking like,” Adams said. “They’re just trying to make it difficult for us to have ease when participating.”
Miles Simon, a swimmer from Howard University who has plans to swim on the US men’s team in Tokyo said he wants to understand the reasoning behind why FINA banned the Soul Cap.
“Help me understand why and then maybe I can see it from your eyes, but right now I’m not sure why some of these rules or bans are in place,” Simon said.
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