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Olympic swimming cap ban: What does the ‘Soul Cap’ rule mean for black swimmers at the 2021 Games?

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Olympic swimming cap ban: What does the ‘Soul Cap’ rule mean for black swimmers at the 2021 Games?

With the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games kicking off in a few days, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) has continued to face backlash over its decision to ban a swimming cap designed for natural black hair.

FINA told UK-based brand Soul Cap that its swim caps could not be approved for use in competitions, including the Olympics, because they do not follow “the natural shape of the head.” according to a BBC report.

Despite criticism from the public, FINA has not lifted the ban and, with less than a week after the start of the first swim events, it is increasingly unlikely that the cap will be allowed in time for the start of the swim. games.

Here’s what you need to know about the Soul Cap and the bathing cap ban at the Olympics.

What is the Soul Cap?

In 2017, Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed-Salawudeen invented the Soul Cap, after hearing the story of a woman with afro hair who struggles with her swimming cap. according to the Soul Cap website. Over the next several weeks, the couple learned about the challenges of people with “thinking, curly, voluminous hair,” whom they said were being ignored.

Chapman and Ahmed-Salawudeen created the Soul Cap, which the website described as “an oversized shower cap created for swimmers who struggle with their hair.” Over 30,000 swim caps have been shipped, read the site.

These swim caps are best suited to Afros, Weaves, Extensions, Dreadlocks, Thick and Curly Hair, and as natural black hair is typically drier than white hair, it is important to protect it from pool water that contains bleach, which can damage black hair.

In a report from The New York Times, Based in the UK Black Swimming Association President and Co-Founder Danielle Obe said the Soul Cap is just an alternative to other swim caps.

“We want to be included, all we ask is to have the option of having equipment that has been designed to address the problem of our hair, which is a major barrier to participation in watersports as a whole,” “Obe told the Times. “If FINA had known that this was a major barrier for our community, I think that decision would have been made slightly differently.”

Former Olympic medal-winning swimmer Lia Neal never wore the Soul Cap during her career, but told the Times that she knew she would sacrifice her hair health to become a competitive swimmer, noting that she probably put the cap on “toward up to 20 times in practice. “

“It’s a hindrance, a hassle that a lot of my counterparts don’t have to worry about because they don’t have to use the same type of hair products as me.”

Why is the swimming cap prohibited?

FINA banned the swimming cap because it does not follow “the natural shape of the head,” Soul Cap’s co-founders told the BBC.

In addition, Soul Cap told the BBC that FINA had told them “to the best of their knowledge, that athletes competing in international events never used, nor are they required to wear, caps of such a size and configuration.”

However, the logic of the ban does not seem to hold up under scrutiny. The Soul Cap is made of silicone, the same material as other swim caps, and because it is larger than most others, it could even put swimmers at a disadvantage, according to the Times report.

Chantique Carey-Payne, the head swimming coach at the University of Guelph, said the FINA ban “was incredibly flawed.” in an interview with CBC.

“They claimed that the use of the caps has never been necessary. They have just never needed it and no one has complained about it basically in advance. But it has not been available either,” Carey-Payne said. “I think it was just a very careless statement on her part to put aside the concerns of an entire community about her hair and just tie it together too, it has never been needed in the past, so we don’t need it now.”

Obe told The Guardian which the Black Swimming Association believes “confirms the lack of diversity” in swimming.

“We need the space and volume that products like soul caps allow. Inclusiveness is realizing that no head shape is ‘normal,’ “Obe said.

In an Instagram post, Soul Cap’s co-founders wrote that they hoped to promote diversity in swimming by approving them for competition “so that swimmers of any level don’t have to choose between the sport they love and their hair.”

“For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial. The recent firing from FINA could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they move into local competitive swimming. , county and national, “the publication reads. “We believe there is always room for improvement, but there is a lot that small and grassroots brands can do – we need leaders to be receptive to positive change.

“A big thank you to everyone who has supported us and our work so far. We do not see this as a setback, but rather as an opportunity to open a dialogue to make a bigger difference.”

Will the ban be lifted for future events?

In a July 2 statement, FINA said it acknowledged “the comments and reactions” on the Soul Cap and said it is “committed to ensuring that all aquatic athletes have access to appropriate competition swimwear where these swimwear does not confer a competitive advantage.”

“FINA is currently reviewing the situation regarding ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products, understanding importance, inclusiveness and representation,” the statement read. “There are no restrictions on ‘Soul Cap’ swim caps for recreational and educational purposes. FINA appreciates the efforts of ‘Soul Cap’ and other suppliers to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the water. FINA will also speak with the manufacturer of the ‘Soul Cap’ on the use of its products through the FINA Development Centers.

“FINA hopes that its consideration of ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products will be part of broader initiatives aimed at ensuring that there are no barriers to participation in swimming, which is both a sport and a vital life skill.”

There has not been a recent update from FINA on the ban.

According to a CNN report, the Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup of the European Parliament sent a letter to the presidents of the IOC and World Athletics, Thomas Bach and Sebastian Coe, calling for the ban on the swimming cap to be lifted, saying that the world sports community and the IOC have ” institutions, structures and rules that exclude people of color and specifically black women ”and then adds“ May the best person win ”.

FINA did not respond to the CNN story. The IOC “diverted the question to the Tokyo Games press office” and World Athletics “referred CNN to FINA,” the report read.

A Change.org petition started by Sabrina Thompson Mitchell has garnered more than 70,000 signatures calling for the Olympic Swimming Federation to also lift the ban. Mitchell wrote in the petition that he wants the world to sign the petition to send to FINA to express “our outrage at his racial discrimination during the Olympics” and asked others to buy Soul Caps and post a photo on social media with it. hashtag # SoulCapInTokyo to start a visual campaign of solidarity with black swimmers “who want to compete in the Olympics with a cap that is suitable for their hair.”

“It’s 2021. No one has time to support racist and biased bans like this. NOT ON OUR WATCH,” Mitchell wrote in the petition.

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