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FINA swimming federation lifts ban, approves swim cap for black hair


Alice Dearing was set to make history in the summer of 2021 as the first black woman to swim for Britain at the Olympics.

Then, bad news: she couldn’t wear the bathing cap she wanted.

Ahead of the Tokyo Summer Olympics, Dearing worked with British company Soul Cap to promote its flagship product – a swim cap designed for dark hair. The previous year, the company had applied to swimming’s world governing body, FINA, to approve the cap for international competition. But about a month before Dearing competed in the women’s 10k marathon swim, FINA announced it was banning the cap, saying the design did not fit “the natural shape of the head”, reported the Associated Press.

“[I]it frustrated me. It sent the wrong message to swimmers and to the world, telling us that the sport can only accommodate a certain version of yourself,” wrote Dearing, co-founder of the Black Swimming Association, in a recent essay for the Guardian.

But on Friday, the swimming body announced that it had reversed its decision by approving the Soul Cap for international competition. Dearing, 25, and the owners of the company said it was a way for officials to make swimming – a predominantly white sport – more accessible to black people.

Brent Nowicki, executive director of FINA, told The Washington Post in an email that officials had worked with Soul Cap over the past year on the design of the product and that he was “delighted” that it has been approved.

“Promoting diversity and inclusivity is at the heart of FINA’s work, and it’s very important that all aquatic athletes have access to appropriate swimwear,” said Nowicki.

In 2017, entrepreneurs Toks Ahmed-Salawudeen and Michael Chapman launched Soul Cap after meeting a black woman with natural hair who was struggling with her conventional swim cap, the AP reported.

Dearing could relate, “People used to tell me my hair was ‘too big’ for the cap – never that the cap was too small for my hair,” she said in a blog post on the company’s website. ‘company.

Conventional swim caps have long been a barrier for swimmers with thick or curly hair, Soul Cap said in a statement last week. Without a properly fitted cap, some swimmers would avoid competitions or drop out of the sport altogether.

In 2020, Ahmed-Salawudeen and Chapman submitted their swim cap for approval for use in international competition, and in the summer of 2021 FINA rejected their offer, the AP reported. Effectively banning the product from competitive swimming, FINA officials said the caps were not suitable for competition because they “did not follow the natural shape of the head” and that to their “best knowledge , athletes competing in international events have never used, or need to use, earplugs of this size and configuration. »

The rejection “has sparked a public debate about diversity in swimming: about the steps we can take to open up the sport to promote greater accessibility and inclusion at all levels,” Soul Cap said on its website.

After the backlash, FINA announced it was reviewing its decision while “understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation,” according to the AP. The governing body also apologized and invited Soul Cap to resubmit its product for review, the company said.

This led to the reversal at the end of last week. In her essay for the Guardian, Dearing said she was “relieved and excited” by the news. Hair is ‘a huge logistical barrier to getting into the pool for some communities’ and managing hers so she could swim was ‘a difficult and confidence-lowering part of my career’.

She hopes that’s no longer a problem – neither for her nor for future swimmers who want to grow out their natural hair.

“As a black woman and a professional swimmer who enjoys both having her hair braided and wearing it in its natural, afro shape, I know how seismic this change will be,” she said in the essay. from the Guardian titled “Finally, there’s no ‘bad hair for swimming.


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