Soul Cap, a covering designed to protect natural Black hair, has earned FINA’s approval for competition use after initially being rejected ahead of last year’s Tokyo Olympics.
FINA executive director Brent Nowicki said the decision was made after a period of review and discussion on cap design between FINA and Soul Cap over the past year. There were no changes made to the design, however, according to Soul Cap.
“Promoting diversity and inclusivity is at the heart of FINA’s work, and it is very important that all aquatic athletes have access to the appropriate swimwear,” Nowicki told the U.K.’s Metro.
Soul Cap is a Black-owned business based out of the U.K. that specializes in covering hair that’s thick, curly, braided or otherwise textured — which is often difficult to fit into smaller swim caps.
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.
British Olympic swimmer (and Soul Cap ambassador) Alice Dearing told NPR that FINA’s ruling was an important step in ensuring that hair isn’t a barrier that prevents people from swimming. Dearing co-founded the Black Swimming Association in 2020.
“Knowing that it is acceptable to compete in this cap at the highest level of sport sends a message that hair should not be a barrier which stops people from participating,” said Dearing, who became the first Black swimmer to represent Great Britain at the Olympic level last year.