British brand Soul Cap had sought to have its products officially recognised by FINA - the sport's world governing body.
Soul Cap - which makes extra-large caps designed to protect dreadlocks, afros, braids and "any type of voluminous hair" - had its application rejected. The caps were barred by FINA on the grounds that to their “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration”.
The Switzerland-based body described the swim caps as unsuitable due to them not “following the natural form of the head”.
Following a social media-based backlash, FINA said it is "currently reviewing the situation" with Soul Cap and related products. It added it recognises "the importance of inclusivity and representation". "FINA appreciates the efforts of “Soul Cap” and other suppliers to ensure everyone has the chance to enjoy the water," the statement said.
FINA insisted it is committed to ensuring all aquatics athletes have access to appropriate swimwear for competition, as long as such swimwear doesn’t provide a competitive advantage.
“We don’t see this as a set back, but a chance to open up a dialogue to make a bigger difference in aquatics,” Soul Cap co-founders Toks Ahmed-Salawudeen and Michael Chapman tweeted.
“A huge thanks to all who have supported us and our work so far.” The men founded the company in 2017 after meeting a black woman with afro hair who struggled with her swim cap. According to the company’s website, it has shipped over 30,000 swim caps to customers worldwide. “For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial,” Ahmed-Salawudeen said in an online post.
“There’s only so much grassroots and small brands can do - we need the top to be receptive to positive change.”
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Alice Dearing, who will compete in marathon swimming in Tokyo as the only black swimmer for Britain, endorses the company’s caps. “People used to tell me my hair was ‘too big’ for the cap - never that the cap was too small for my hair,” she said in a blog post on the company’s website. FINA pointed out on Friday there is no restriction on Soul Cap usage for recreational and teaching purposes. It said it appreciates the efforts of the company and other suppliers in making sure people have a chance to enjoy the water. FINA said it would speak with Soul Cap officials about using the company’s products at its development centres located in Dakar, Senegal, and Kazan, Russia.