The Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA), the world's governing body for competitive aquatic sports, has decided to reverse a ban on a swimming cap made specifically for natural Black hair, reports NPR.
Soul Cap, which was created by Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed-Salawudeen “to protect hair that's thick, curly, braided or otherwise textured,” sought approval from the federation for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Last year, FINA barred the caps saying, “to their best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration.” The report also stated that the cap did not "[follow] the natural form of the head," a specification detailed in FINA's requirements for approved swimwear.
When the ruling was announced, it garnered immediate backlash which highlighted the inequalities and lack of inclusion in the white-dominated world of competitive swimming.
In response to the ban, Danielle Obe, chair of the Black Swimming Association, forcefully spoke out against the federation’s stance.
“At the highest level, we're then hearing that, 'we want the sport to be inclusive and representative, we want to have people of color in the sport but we want them to join on our terms,” she said.”That really is not what inclusion is about.”
“By and large, hair is a significant barrier to aquatics for many women especially and many people of color from our communities,” she continued. “So [the Soul Cap] should be considered as a product that overcomes this barrier.”
After "a period of review and discussion on cap design," with the Soul Cap creators and Brent Nowicki, executive director of FINA, the federation lifted the ban.
"Promoting diversity and inclusivity is at the heart of FINA's work, and it is very important that all aquatic athletes have access to the appropriate swimwear," Nowicki said.
Alice Dearing, an ambassador for Soul Cap and the first Black swimmer to represent Great Britain in the Olympics, expressed her excitement about the reversal of the ban.
"I know that a lot of people value the option this cap brings them when going swimming,” Dearing said. “Knowing that it is acceptable to compete in this cap at the highest level of the sport sends a message that hair should not be a barrier which stops people from participating.”
As of Sept. 1, 2022, Soul Cap is on FINA's "approved swimwear" list.