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.”