Soul Cap co-founder Michael Chapman offered some behind-the-scenes perspective this week on FINA’s recent approval of his company’s coverings for competition use. The caps specialize in protecting hair that’s thick, curly, braided, or otherwise textured — which is often difficult to fit into smaller swim caps.
After Soul Cap’s initial rejection ahead of last summer’s Tokyo Olympics sparked outrage over a lack of inclusiveness in the sport, Chapman said that FINA’s new executive director Brent Nowicki reached out encouraging the company to resubmit and vowing to take another look with fresh eyes. It took more than a year to review the decision, but Soul Cap coverings were officially approved for competition use on Sept. 1.
“The rejection happened, and then the big press coverage happened, and the chief executive (Brent Nowicki) reached out to us,” Chapman said. “I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but they said they wanted to go back and reconsider the caps. They didn’t know why this happened and the feeling is not what they would have wanted. They promised to go back to review the decision and encouraged us to resubmit. I think they wanted to approach things differently and be more inclusive.
“There was no indication whether they’d approve the cap — they didn’t say resubmit and we’ll definitely approve it,” he added. “It was just, ‘Resubmit and we’ll have a fresh set of eyes look at it.’ If anything, it was just on their side a huge drive to be more inclusive and be more open and more current.”
Chapman and his team weren’t prepared for the ensuing media coverage that soon became “overwhelming,” but the outpouring of support provided confirmation that their cause was worth fighting for.
“The media coverage was something we weren’t expecting,” Chapman said. “Genuinely, it took us by complete surprise. We weren’t set up at that point for that kind of media coverage. It was, to be honest, overwhelming. We had to really pull together and draw upon a wider support network to help with all the requests for press, all those kind of things. I think what we took away from that was the support was absolutely insane. Just reading through the comments on Twitter and the news articles, all the support affirmed and reinforced the fact that these caps should be approved.”
It wasn’t necessarily always about the top-level athletes. It was actually about the people at the county level, and then maybe progressing into more competitive competitions where they would have to wear these caps.
Fortunately for Chapman, he didn’t have to tweak any design elements of the cap following FINA’s review. The only thing that changed was FINA’s sentiments as the organization walked back its initial rejection.
“There was no change to the design whatsoever,” Chapman reiterated. “I think the change of feeling was maybe more on their side. They have said that they go through a process of change. If I understand correctly, I think they’ve actually changed who the executive is since we first made the application. They want to be more inclusive, and this was a step in that direction.”
Chapman seemed most excited for how FINA’s approval of Soul Cap will impact younger swimmers, who will hopefully no longer have to choose between continuing their swimming careers or keeping their natural, voluminous hair.
“When the news story broke last year, there was a huge emphasis on Olympic athletes being able to use the caps in competitions,” Chapman said. “Actually, for myself, it wasn’t entirely about Olympic athletes having accessibility to these caps if they needed them. What we wanted was that if you have a child who has long hair, and they were at school, they learn to swim, and then it got to a point where they start to compete at the local level and county level, at some point their coach is going to have a chat with them and say, ‘If you want to progress further, you have to cut your hair to fit an approved cap for competition.’
“Someone who’s younger at 14 years old competing at the county level, not necessarily the Olympic level, would have to make that decision,” he added. “It was about giving people that choice to continue and not have to choose between their hair and swimming.”
The article said it took a year to review the decision. It amazes me as to how long it takes an organization like FINA to correct a mistake and then of course they never admit they made one.
Does anyone remember Karol Lynn Joyce?
I never could figure out how she got all that hair in her cap.
“What we wanted was that if you have a child who has long hair, and they were at school, they learn to swim, and then it got to a point where they start to compete at the local level and county level, at some point their coach is going to have a chat with them and say, ‘If you want to progress further, you have to cut your hair to fit an approved cap for competition.’”
These conversations will still have to happen, even with this approval of the Soul Cap. I understand the importance of being inclusive and not driving young athletes away from the sport, so I definitely see the benefit of at least allowing it. But I’d… Read more »
Never say never…
You can’t make it anywhere just because you have one specific piece of equipment that gives you a certain advantage, but the sport right being really really white , needs some diversity and maybe soul caps will help bring in more diversity to the sport
Anything that opens the door to kids who may otherwise not try the sport is a great thing. I’m sure there are a lot of kids out there who want to try their local swim team but are discouraged because they can’t fit their hair in a traditional cap. If the Soul Cap gets these kids in the pool, then that’s an amazing asset for our sport.
Still, every swimmer, regardless of their ability level, is going to go faster with hair that is capable of fitting into a traditional cap. That’s undeniable. Most kids figure this out for themselves at some point or another but if a swimmer asked me, “Coach, is this a disadvantage?” I would be obligated… Read more »
Agreed with Coach Tom. Anyone with a little sense will applaud the promotionof of a piece of equipment that will bring inclusion to the sport. But lets be realistic. In a sport were a couple of hundreths of a second is the difference between an olympic gold medal or no medal at all, the soul cap with its increased drag, has little relevance at the highest level. Unless of course a phenom like Milak or Peaty, who are head and shoulders above their competiton, decide to put one on.
Track and Field is also an Olympic sport where a “couple of hundreths of a second is the difference between an olympic gold medal or no medal at all”… and yet I see the majority of the female athletes with long flowing hair setting records AND winning Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals. Certainly all that hair must create “increased drag” in their sport… and yet they keep winning. May be the point of the cap is LESS about winning a medal and MORE about having the confidence to try.