The Soul Cap was developed to provide better fit and chlorine protection for thicker, curlier hair. The creators of the British brand sought approval for the product before the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. However, they were rejected by the swimming federation, known as FINA.
FINA claimed that athletes competing at the world stage have “never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration,” according to The Associated Press.
The organization also said that the cap does not “[follow] the natural form of the head,” a rule outlined in FINA’s requirements for approved swimwear.
The backlash to the ban was swift and led to much-needed conversations about the lack of diversity in swimming and the barriers that exist in the world of competitive swimming.
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According to a 2020 study in The International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, Black children ages 5 to 14 have a 2.6 times higher risk of drowning death than White children. This risk is linked to “systematic exclusion from public pools.”
After “a period of review and discussion on cap design” along with Soul Cap creators, FINA reversed its decision from last year this week. “Promoting diversity and inclusivity is at the heart of FINA’s work, and it is very important that all aquatic athletes have access to the appropriate swimwear,” FINA Executive Director Brent Nowicki told the U.K.’s Metro.
In a statement released last week, the makers of the Soul Cap said that traditional caps presented a challenge for swimmers with braids, Afros, or otherwise thick and curly hair, increasing the likelihood that some swimmers would avoid competitions or give up on the sport.
“We want to see swimming become an accessible sport, with equipment and swimwear that lets anyone get involved and see success,” the statement said.
The brand called the approval “a huge step in the right direction.”