14 U.S. Senators signed a letter to International Swimming Federation (FINA) President Husain Al-Musallam, urging him to reverse the ban on Soul Caps at the Tokyo Olympics on July 20th.
Black-owned company Soul Cap designed their swim caps for “thick, curly, and voluminous hair,” with the aim of increasing the inclusivity of people with natural Black hair in swimming. FINA rejected their request for approval at the Tokyo Olympics on July 2nd.
U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey led the letter which comes after FINA has already said it would revisit the decision.
“FINA is currently reviewing the situation with regards to “Soul Cap” and similar products, understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation,” the organization said on July 2nd.
This was acknowledged in the letter, but the Senators called for “immediate action.”
“The decision by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) evidences the implicit and explicit biases against Afro-textured or natural hair that are deeply ingrained in society at large, and now, as a result of this policy, in competitive swimming,” the letter reads.
“This exclusionary barrier serves to primarily impact competitors of African descent in a sport in which Black people continue to be underrepresented…
…As an international organization that sets the standards for swimming across the globe, FINA bears a special responsibility to ensure it serves all people and cultures.”
The letter was signed by Senators
- Dick Durbin (D-Illinois)
- Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut)
- Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York)
- Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland)
- Tina Smith (D-Minnesota)
- Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)
- Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin)
- Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts)
- Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts)
- Alex Padilla (D-California)
- Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia)
- Patty Murray (D-Washington)
- Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois)
- Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).
Booker’s letter is very similar to the letter Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Bonnie Watson Coleman led to Al-Musallam on July 15th. Watson Coleman is a New Jersey Representative and Booker is a New Jersey Senator.
Lee and Watson Coleman obtained a total of 25 signatures from predominantly Black members of Congress and cosponsors of the CROWN Act which prohibits discrimination of hair style and texture.
“Black women face natural hair discrimination each and every day in the workplace, and now we’re seeing it on the world athletic stage,” Lee said in a press release.
“There is no justification whatsoever to ban swim caps, which serve as an essential accessory for people with natural hair texture. This is an incredibly clear example of the ways in which systemic racism impacts every facet of life for black people, especially black women.
“We are urging that FINA take steps to reform this discriminatory policy and align themselves with the intended spirit of inclusion and diversity the Olympic games represent.”
Watson Coleman was one of the founders of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls in 2016 which studies policy issues that affect the Black female population.
“Women of the African diaspora have notably been the overwhelming recipients of bias and discriminatory policies that have challenged the very definition of what is deemed “natural” and therefore acceptable,” Watson Coleman said.
“The decision and justification by the International Swimming Federation to ban the use of swim caps that accommodate the natural hair texture and/or hairstyles of Black women is not only insulting, inconsiderate, and irrational; but consequently serves as a deterrent in participation for Black swimmers.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has rules against governments interfering with sports, though this is now twice the U.S. federal government is wading into these waters recently.
The U.S. government is also getting involved with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
They are trying to pressure for harsher doping sanctions on Russia, but also to take marijuana off the banned list after U.S. track and field star Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended for testing positive for marijuana.
Full Letter from U.S. Senators
*You can read the full letter by Lee and Watson Coleman here
Dear President Al-Musallam,
We write to you to express our serious concern with your decision to prohibit the use of swim caps designed for natural Black hair in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. The decision by the InternationalSwimming Federation (FINA) evidences the implicit and explicit biases against Afro-textured or natural hair that are deeply ingrained in society at large, and now, as a result of this policy, in competitive swimming. This exclusionary barrier serves to primarily impact competitors of African descent in a sport in which Black people continue to be underrepresented.
In its decision, FINA described the caps designed to accommodate natural hair as unsuitable because they do not follow “the natural form of the head” and that to their “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration.” Acknowledging that swimmers have “never used” swim caps that accommodate natural hair only underscores the fact that Black people have historically faced barriers to competitive swimming. Indeed, in the United States, the lack of diversity has its roots in the historic racism that denied Black people access to public pools as recently as the 1960s.
This history persists and is reflected in the sport of competitive swimming. According to a 2019 demographic report by USA Swimming, a mere 0.8% of female athletes and 0.6% of male athletes out of327,337 year-round are Black. This lack of representation perpetuates itself – a joint study conducted by the University of Memphis and University of Nevada-Las Vegas found that 65 percent of African- American children would like to swim more than they do and 76 percent of parents reported that their children would be more likely to want to participate in swimming if they saw a talented swimmer that looked like them.
In its statement expressing its intent to ensure there are no barriers to swimming, FINA explained that it must ensure that “swimwear does not confer a competitive advantage” to swimmers. What this misses is that the ban on swim caps for natural hair is a barrier in and of itself that primarily disadvantages Black swimmers. For too long, Black people have had to conform to the societal and cultural norms in areas of life from which they have been excluded. It is time to recognize this history and make all spaces – including competitive swimming – inclusive.
As an international organization that sets the standards for swimming across the globe, FINA bears a special responsibility to ensure it serves all people and cultures. FINA has stated that it will review its decision to ban swim caps for natural hair and embark on initiatives to promote inclusivity. While we appreciate this commitment, FINA has the ability to reconsider its policy to ban swim caps for natural hair now.
We respectfully urge you to take immediate action to reverse this policy before the Tokyo Olympics. This is an opportunity for FINA to realize its stated commitment to inclusivity and to begin to address issues of diversity and representation in competitive swimming. It is actions such as these that can move us toward the vision of a more fair and equitable society.
We look forward to further engagement with you and receiving a timely response.