FINA Rejects Soul Cap For International Competition, Drawing Criticism

A Black-owned swim cap company says FINA would not approve its caps for international competition, saying the cap does not “follow the natural form of the head.”

Soul Cap is a United Kingdom-based brand of swim caps focused on extra-large caps for swimmers with “thick, curly, and voluminous hair.” The company hoped to gain FINA approval to allow the cap to be used in international competitions like the Olympics. But Soul Cap says FINA, the international governing body for aquatic sports, would not consider the cap for approval.

According to Soul Cap, FINA’s rejection said that “athletes competing at the International events never used, neither require to use caps of such size and configuration,” and that the shape of the cap does not “follow the natural form of the head.”

The decision has drawn heavy criticism from observers, who say the caps are an important step to promoting racial diversity in a sport that has struggled in that area.

Maritza Correia became the first Black American swimmer to set a world record in the year 2000. Correia, also known by her married name Maritza McClendon, said FINA’s decision showed that the sport still has a structural problem giving underrepresented groups a voice in decision-making.

“This is yet another prime example of systemic racism,” McClendon said. “The reason for rejecting is not a technical reason or a timing issue, but subjective, and that’s not right.

“There’s a bigger conversation that needs to be had, and representation needs to be at the table.”

“To make this sport more inclusive is important on a global level,” she said. “We need to recognize and celebrate when solutions are brought forth that meet the needs of underrepresented populations. We need to work together for a more inclusive sport, not continue to be part of the problem.”

“We believe that it confirms a lack of diversity in the sport,” Black Swimming Association founder Danielle Obe told The Guardian this week, saying hair and swim caps can be significant barriers to Black swimmers connecting with 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. Hair is a significant issue for our community.”

FINA released a statement today acknowledging the criticism and saying it was “reviewing the situation with regards to ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products.” FINA also says the caps are not restricted for “recreational or teaching purposes,” but only in international-level competition.

FINA acknowledges the comments and reactions concerning the use of “Soul Cap” swim caps in FINA competition.

FINA is committed to ensuring that all aquatics athletes have access to appropriate swimwear for competition where this swimwear does not confer a competitive advantage. FINA is currently reviewing the situation with regards to “Soul Cap” and similar products, understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation.

There is no restriction on “Soul Cap” swim caps for recreational and teaching purposes. FINA appreciates the efforts of “Soul Cap” and other suppliers to ensure everyone has the chance to enjoy the water. FINA will also speak with the manufacturer of the “Soul Cap” about utilising their products through the FINA Development Centres.

FINA expects to make its consideration of “Soul Cap” and similar products part of wider initiatives aimed at ensuring there are no barriers to participation in swimming, which is both a sport and a vital life skill.

Soul Cap says FINA’s rejection feedback made no mention of competitive advantage. We’ve followed up with the company to confirm when the caps were rejected and will update this story when we have more information.

The founders of the swim cap company posted a statement to social media, emphasizing their goal of promoting diversity in the sport, and making sure “swimmers at any level don’t have to choose between the sport they love and their hair.”

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SWIMGUY12345
3 months ago

Everyone should be outraged by this.

There is no competitive advantage here and completely disregards that certain hair textures don’t follow “the natural form of the head.”

What does that even mean exactly? They’re essentially saying people whose hair isn’t straight or low porosity isn’t “natural.”

Absolutely pathetic and disappointing.

Olympian
3 months ago

Lame

BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

Would any Olympic swimmer actually wear this? Honest question.

Roch
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t. But since it doesn’t offer a competitive advantage they should be able to decide if it’s right for them.

BearlyBreathing
Reply to  Roch
3 months ago

Is this whole uproar over a solution in search of a problem?
These caps are only banned in international-level competition.
I would like to hear one international-level swimmer, male or female, say they would wear this in the Olympics, WCs or the like. Until then, my thinking is this is a marketing ploy by a media-savvy company hoping to capitalize on the publicity of the rejection to sell swim caps.

Last edited 3 months ago by BearlyBreathing
Sean C.
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

It’s silly to call this a marketing ploy. They wouldn’t know whether the cap would be rejected. It’s a product that is affirmatively designed to fulfill a need for at least some black swimmers, and they’d like the FINA seal of approval for it, since there’s no point getting people accustomed to swimming using a sort of gap that they aren’t allowed to use in competitions, etc.

This is a real gaffe by FINA, making themselves look out of touch for no reason.

BearlyBreathing
Reply to  Sean C.
3 months ago

My hot take is that exactly zero prospective young swimmers of any color or ethnicity will be discouraged from joining a swim team on account of this decision by FINA. If we want to do something good for young swimmers of color, let’s tackle the closure or absence of public pools in urban areas, disappearing funding at the city or high school levels for aquatics programs, and the constant downward pressure on college athletic budgets apart from football and basketball.
The lack of large swim caps at the international level is not the reason for swimming’s diversity problem. I think this brouhaha is nothing but a distraction from that statement.

Edited because I used the word lack 4 times… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by BearlyBreathing
aquajosh
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

Just a cursory glance at Twitter would tell you that you’re wrong that traditional swim caps haven’t been a deterrent to Black participation in swimming at a competitive or even recreational level. We should be working to eliminate any and all barriers to entry, no matter how trivial it may seem. Swimming is for everyone.

dresselgoat
Reply to  Sean C.
3 months ago

I mean it could be both. A marketing ploy that also points out major issues with FINA. Not necessarily a gaffe when this is totally expected of them.

Last edited 3 months ago by dresselgoat
swimapologist
Reply to  dresselgoat
3 months ago

I think I agree with you dresselgoat. FINA should have approved it, and it is also a huge marketing ploy.

All that to say, if FINA approves it, the company probably would’ve started to promote “OUR CAPS ARE APPROVED FOR WEARING IN THE OLYMPICS!!!” and then the IOC would’ve had to sue them for IP violations, then the IOC still comes away being called racist.

No-win situation, really.

My 2 cents
Reply to  Sean C.
3 months ago

Most items sent to FINA are not approved. They have the strictest testing and approval process. It’s also really expensive to submit for approval. It’s doesn’t discount the product or the need for it. But in terms of Olympic and FINA completion it can’t be used the same way a practice suit is not technically approved for a FINA competition. There is no advantage to wearing a practice suit for obvious reasons. Let’s not get caught up on this very technical ruling but encourage those who need this product to go purchase it and bring more awareness for that community.

GOMMFL
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

Totally agree. This seems like a well-placed marketing gimmick under the guise of virtue signaling.

I’m all for this brand entering the swimming world, and wish them success. But to pretend that this is a competition worthy product, particularly at the elite level, is purely laughable.

Doconc
Reply to  GOMMFL
3 months ago

Not only that, but it looks ridiculous

Swim Mom
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

Absolutely a marketing ploy

FromTheStands
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

If it was a marketing ploy, FINA played their role exactly as expected.

FINA’s biases are so predictable you can deploy marketing dollars against it.

BWPolo
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

completely was. Alice Dearing (in the pic) signed with Soul Caps in May/June and made the British team in the 10K swim. She has a lot of hair but in all her videos and photos she fits into a standard silicon cap just fine. The Soul Caps website now says all their products are sold out. They also sell standard branded silicone caps so technically you can purchase a “Soul Caps” FINA-compliant cap.

Product application dates are Feb 1 and May 1. They knew they would be rejected under Rule 4.3.1 “Shape” for their larger models. There is also a maximum 2mm thickness rule so that could have been an issue. Without seeing the application paperwork I also wonder… Read more »

M d e
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

No.

Sun Yangs Mom
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

probably not. I was always wondered why michael phelps had hair sticking out of his cap. seems like a lot of drag

dresselgoat
Reply to  Sun Yangs Mom
3 months ago

It was way more common before the super suit era to care less about the cap and fit. Biederman didn’t wear a cap in the 2008 Olympic final!

Aquajosh
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

One of their spokespersons is Alice Dearing, who this year became the first Black Olympic swimmer to represent Great Britain.

FST
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

Maybe they would. Maybe some athletes prefer different hairstyles from the ones they’re forced to have because of the approved caps… but apparently we’ll never know 🤷‍♀️

M d e
3 months ago

I’d say it’s a slippery slope type argument for them. Could you potentially stuff it with something to shape your head like a bullet? Would that have any actual benefit?

In saying that I’m ok with it not being allowed. Given the nature of the item (clearly has no use in competitive environment when used correctly) and the way they have gone about this I suspected they wanted their application to be disallowed for publicity as well. So best of luck to them, but I always find things like this gross.

BearlyBreathing
Reply to  M d e
3 months ago

Does anyone remember the odd bullet-shaped cap-on-top-of-a-cap Natalie Coughlin tried out in her backstroke races like circa 2008? No I’m not imagining this.

beachmouse
Reply to  M d e
3 months ago

I grew up under the waning days of the breaststroke rule set that said you couldn’t put your head all the way underwater except on starts and turns and I remember the older girls doing all kinds of hairstyles to puff their caps up more so it would be harder to have a reason to DQ them. ‘Hungarian-style’ breaststroke after the rules changes was a huge revelation and scramble to learn a much fasterr way to swim the stroke.

Yozhik
Reply to  beachmouse
3 months ago

Nice to hear from you again. Is little mouse still making a difference? 😀

dresselgoat
Reply to  beachmouse
3 months ago

A good point! It seems incredibly dumb based on the linked picture but maybe they thought there was some buoyancy issues who knows. Could be racism though i dunno.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  dresselgoat
3 months ago

Could be?

Podium Pouter
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
3 months ago

@Longhorn: you’re probably old enough to remember Eldridge Cleaver’s pants from the 1970s: “The Cleaver.”

Check it out: https://www.messynessychic.com/2013/08/01/the-1970s-political-activist-who-invented-penis-pants/

Mean Dean
3 months ago

I’m not sure I understand the outrage. It isn’t banned at club meets or high school competitions, correct? Just international competitions? At those meets I assume all swimmers would want to reduce drag to the greatest of their ability.

As a practice cap and even for small dual meets this is still viable, right? If it’s banned at that level I think it’s ridiculous, but otherwise I would really like someone to fill me in on what I’m missing?

SSCommenter
Reply to  Mean Dean
3 months ago

More about the principle of it I think. Why not just allow it?

Sean C.
Reply to  Mean Dean
3 months ago

I also query whether any elite competitive swimmer would want to wear this, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t have the choice, and FINA’s justification really doesn’t hold any water (so to speak).

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Sean C.
3 months ago

If you’ve never watched the slowest prelims heat of the Olympics, you wouldn’t know that there are a lot of Olympians, deservedly called so, who are not anywhere near “elite” in terms of speed.

Ugh
3 months ago

This ban is bs. But does anyone use these in racing or synchronized?

Armchair
3 months ago

Isn’t the basic issue that a lot of black women don’t want to cut their hair? The makers claim that regular swim caps
are not good for black female swimmers because black hair is different. Yea, it’s different but not different enough to require a different cap IF you cut your hair. And what competitive swimmer would not cut her hair? You’d be crazy not too. A number of African American female athletes seem to have a thing for how they look while competing. S. Richardson, the 100-meter racer who was just lost her spot in the Olympic 100-meter event because she was caught with weed in her system, runs with six-inch fake nails, big fake eyelashes and hair… Read more »

BearlyBreathing
Reply to  Armchair
3 months ago

>runs with six-inch fake nails, big fake eyelashes and hair extensions
And she still beat everyone.

beachmouse
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 months ago

There’s a certain amount of gamesmanship in the track sprints and on the women’s side it can manifest as ‘I’m going to look like I’m about to go out clubbing and then I’m still going to beat you by 0.3 seconds’. You can actually use Shelley-Ann Fraser-Prcye’s amazing wig collection as a way to figure out where she thinks her fitness level is- when she brings out the waist length one dyed in the colors of the Jamaican flag, you know no one else in the field has a chance. Which I think is pretty awesome.

Bossanova
Reply to  Armchair
3 months ago

This comment is why I say Black Lives Matter.

FST
Reply to  Armchair
3 months ago

🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️

LittleFin
Reply to  Armchair
3 months ago

It feels a bit like you’re saying that you can only choose to be an athlete by conforming to white athlete “norms”… which I don’t feel comfortable about at all.

Mike
Reply to  Armchair
3 months ago

While I agree that the comment from Armchair is at least ignorant if not blatantly racist(sexist), your assumption that it must be a white male betrays your own prejudice.

There is no monopoly on ignorance by any one demographic.

jeff
Reply to  Mike
3 months ago

i mean its not hard to make an educated guess, they went after someone for wearing fake eyelashes and hair extensions so it seems pretty likely that they’re not a woman and then clearly discounted how hair can be an important part of a black person’s cultural identity (literally put the word identity in quotation marks) so I think it’s pretty obvious that the commenter was neither black nor a woman

MarkB
Reply to  Armchair
3 months ago

I’m soo glad you clarified that Sha’Carri was DQ’ed for ‘weed in her system’ which has NOTHING to do with your main point. On second thought, maybe it has EVERYTHING to do with your main point.

IM FAN
3 months ago

I don’t see why is has to be banned as no advantage is being gained from that cap design, but I gotta be honest, it seems like FINA walked right into a trap laid to gain this company publicity. No professional swimmer is going where this cap thanks to is design, but know the media is giving this company free advertising thanks to their claims of racism in the swimwear industry.

So my response to this is FINA is stupid as always and I don’t really care about this company nor really see them being very successful

torchbearer
Reply to  IM FAN
3 months ago

Indeed…as pointed out, the ban is only in international comps, so affects few swimmers. FINA could have just said the cap is fine, and for international swimmers they would consider it on a case-by-case basis….problem solved.

Sean C.
Reply to  IM FAN
3 months ago

Attributing this to the company aiming for publicity is misguided. They sought the same approval that anybody looking to sell a swim cap for competitions would want to have.

dresselgoat
Reply to  Sean C.
3 months ago

This is a very good and fair point. I think the people expressing these opinions are coming from the view that there isn’t a top level swimmer that would wear a cap as large as the ones they make. So it seems like they are chasing controversy. FINA is dumb for not accepting it though, obviously.

GOMMFL
Reply to  Sean C.
3 months ago

Perhaps the initial application wasn’t the marketing ploy. But the subsequent framing of the media story certainly smacks of agenda.

Last edited 3 months ago by GOMMFL

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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