How the Olympic Committee perpetuates inequalities in sport by blocking swim caps for natural dark hair
Swim caps designed for natural dark hair created by a brand owned by blacks will not be permitted at the Olympics.
The hats, made by Soul cap, who was previously a partner of Alice Dearing, who qualified to become the first black swimmer to represent Team GB at the Olympics, was rejected by the International Swimming Federation (Fina). The organization said the caps do not match “the natural shape of the head” and that to their knowledge “athletes competing in international events have never used or required caps of this size and configuration”.
Danielle Obe, a founding member of the Black Swimming Association, said the decision underscored the systemic and institutional inequalities inherent in the sport. “We think this confirms a lack of diversity in (sport). Aquatic swimming needs to do better.
The original swim cap, designed by Speedo 50, was created to prevent Caucasian hair from flowing down the face when swimming. Obe said the caps don’t work for Afro hair, which “grows and defies gravity.”
“We need the space and volume that products like Soul Caps allow. Inclusiveness is realizing that no head shape is normal, ”Obe said.
While other swim caps for afro hair are available, they are hard to find, which, Obe said, has created a sense of exclusion for members of the black and minority ethnic community.
“If I walked into my local health club, gym, or recreation center, could I easily buy one (swim caps for afro hair)? No, ”Obe said. “Can I walk into a general retail store like Asda, Tesco, or Sports Direct and buy one?” No.”
According to the sport’s governing body, Swim England, only 2% of regular swimmers are black. He found that 95% of black adults and 80% of black children in England do not swim. While 79% of Asian adults and 79% of Asian children do not swim, black children are three times more likely to drown than white children.
Obe believes that a lack of suitable products is preventing members of the BAME community from getting into swimming. “If the (official swimming bodies) are talking about representation, they need to talk to the communities to find out what the barriers are preventing us from engaging. Hair is an important issue for our community.
In response to Fina’s decision, Soul Cap founders – Toks Ahmed and Michael Chapman, released a statement on Instagram highlighting issues related to exclusion and sport.
“For younger swimmers feeling included and seeing themselves in a sport at a young age is crucial. Fina’s recent layoff could discourage many young athletes from playing the sport as they progress in local, regional and national competitive swimming. They said they feared swimmers would have to “choose between the sport they love and their hair.”