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Swimming caps for natural Black hair banned from Olympics

FINA says a swim cap designed for natural Black hair will not be allowed at the Olympic Games.

Soul Cap Soul Cap

Swimming caps designed to cover natural Black hair and created by a Black-owned business will not be allowed at the Olympic Games. On Friday (July 2), the International Swimming Federation (FINA) rejected the caps made by the company Soul Cap, which previously partnered with Alice Dearing — the first Black female swimmer to represent Great Britain at the Olympics.

FINA said it rejected the caps because they do not fit “the natural form of the head” and claimed “athletes competing at the international events never used... caps of such size and configuration.”

According to BBC, the caps are made to comfortably cover and protect dreadlocks, afros, weaves, hair extensions, braids and thick and curly hair. Kejai Terrelonge, a 17-year-old Black swimmer, told Radio 1 Newsbeat that she was “heartbroken but not surprised” by the decision.

“Using the smaller swimming caps that everyone else would use, it would fit on my head but because I put [protective] oil in my hair, when I was swimming it would just keep sliding off and my hair would get wet,” she explained.

Danielle Obe, founder of the Black Swimming Association, told the Guardian that the decision “confirms a lack of diversity” in the sport.

“We need the space and the volume, which products like the Soul Caps allow for. Inclusivity is realizing that no one head shape is ‘normal,’” Obe said. “If I walked into my local health club, gym or leisure center, could I readily pick up one of these [caps]? No. Can I walk into a general retail store like Asda, Tesco or Sports Direct and pick one up? No.”

Obe added that decisions like this add to the lack of Black representation in the sport.

“If the [official swimming bodies] are talking about representation, they need to speak to the communities to find out what the barriers are that are preventing us from engaging,” she said. “Hair is a significant issue for our community.”

Tony Cronin, a Black swim coach, shared a similar sentiment with BBC. “There’s so many barriers for Black swimmers and [FINA has] kind of put another barrier up,” he said. According to the outlet, while British children are overrepresented in swimming relative to their population share, only 20.1 percent of Black children participate in the sport.

Soul Cap co-founders Toks Ahmed and Michael Chapman also released a statement about the ruling.

“For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial. FINA’s recent dismissal could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through local, county and national competitive swimming,” they said, adding they fear swimmers will have to “choose between the sport they love and their hair.”

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