FINA denies certification for natural hair swim caps at Olympics

The committee said the caps don't follow "the natural form of the head."

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The International Olympic Committee has denied an application for large, natural hair-based swim caps, created by the Black-owned brand Soul Cap.

Soul Cap sought to certify its products for competition in the Olympic Games this summer in Tokyo, but FINA, the federation for international competitions in water sports, said to their “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the International events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration,” Metro reported on Wednesday.

The committee noted that the caps don’t follow “the natural form of the head.”

Soul Cap was created in 2017 when best friends Toks Ahmed and Michael Chapman started adult swimming lessons and met a woman who was struggling to fit an average swim cap over her afro hair. The duo was inspired to create larger swimming caps for natural hair and diverse hair types.

Soul Cap
(Credit: Instagram)

The brand has since provided 40,000 swim caps to swimmers globally.

Ahmed and Chapman released a statement on social media in response to FINA’s decision. 

“We hoped to further our work for diversity in swimming by having our swim caps certified for competition, so swimmers at any level don’t have to choose between the sport they love and their hair,” said Ahmed and Chapman. “For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial. FINA’s recent dismissal could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through local, county and national competitive swimming.”

The statement continued: “We feel there’s always room for improvement, but there’s only so much grassroots and small brands can do — we need the top to be receptive to positive change. A huge thanks to all who have supported us and our work so far. We don’t see this as a setback, but a chance to open up a dialogue to make a bigger difference.”

Ahmed and Chapman said their goal is to increase diversity in swimming.

“How do we achieve participation and representation in the world of competition swimmers, if the governing body stops suitable swimwear being available to those who are underrepresented?”

“We feel the rejection comes from lack of thought, without full consideration for diversity and the different requirements non-white athletes may have,” Toks told Metro.

“We feel there’s always room for improvement, but there’s only so much grassroots and small brands can do – we need the top to be receptive to positive change.”

Several social media users have expressed their disappointment with the committee’s decision, with many calling it outright racist.

One Twitter user wrote that the situation is “A case of “if white people don’t require this then no one does.”

Another commented that FINA is “ OBVIOUSLY RACIST AND OUT OF TOUCH. Some athletes cut their hair bc there’s no adequate equipment, but shouldn’t have to! It gives nobody a competitive advantage, so it clearly only serves some white person’s idea of what a swimmer should look like.”

A third added, “That’s a crap argument from the committee! In fact they are saying that if you have afro hair (are black!) and you want to swim on that level, you have to cut your hair (very) short.”

Another user wrote, “So @fina1908 is really, actually, out-loud taking the approach of “elite swimmers aren’t Black.” Just a bunch of privileged gatekeepers looking for new, novel ways to keep Black people out of their pools.”

theGRIO reached out to FINA for a response to the backlash, but received no comment at the time of publication.

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