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03rd Sep 2022

Swimming caps for Afro hair have been approved for elite sports – but why not sooner?

Ellen Fitzpatrick

As they should be.

Swimming caps are something elite swimmers must wear to compete, we see them all over these kinds of sporting events and it’s nothing unusual.

In many other sports, clothing for them has adapted to the modern day. We have seen hijabs made by Nike and Gymshark and more recently, swimming caps have been designed for athletes with Afro hair.

The swimming cap designed by Black-owned SOUL CAP, however, was banned in 2021 by FINA (swimming’s governing body) after it was denied approval to become certified to wear for competitive swimming.

They were banned 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.”

They went on to say that the caps did not follow ” the natural form of the head” and were therefore unsuitable.

As they were banned, it meant they couldn’t be used in the Olympics last year, which naturally led to public outrage.

FINA has now backtracked on this, approving the inclusive cap range as they strive for diversity and accessibility. Could this not have been done sooner? Or better, initially?

“This result plays a huge part in our wider mission to improve inclusion in the sport,” said Toks Ahmed, co-founder of SOUL CAP.

“We’re so grateful to everyone who showed support and was part of creating this major change. As a new father and someone who didn’t learn to swim growing up, creating access for the next generation feels even more close to home.

“We’ve seen what community and collective energy can achieve, so we’re hopeful to keep knocking down more of these barriers.”

While this is a major win for the company and for people of colour, why couldn’t this have been avoided and just been approved last year?

People of colour have had to suffer from the lack of appropriate sportswear for years, and due to a lot of this, they couldn’t compete as they didn’t meet the requirements.

It has caused major setbacks in sport, especially when it comes to swimming. Swimming caps were created for white people and white people’s hair. They are designed for thinner and shorter hair, making it increasingly difficult for anyone with braids, locs, and Afro hair to find something to fit and protect their hair.

As unfair as this has always been, FINA were not and are not on their side. While it seems they are doing the right thing by approving these caps, it feels as if they are simply just jumping on the bandwagon.

With a huge amount of criticism for banning them to begin with, of course they would approve them. They don’t want to look as if they’re on the wrong side of history.

Again, this is an incredible achievement for SOUL CAP, and nobody can or should take that away from them. When it comes to FINA, they should have done this last year to do what was genuinely right, not because the backlash told them they should.