Soul Cap. (306224)
Soul Cap. Credit: Soul Cap

The international swimming federation has sparked a storm of controversy after banning swim caps designed for Black hair, reportedly declaring that they don’t follow “the natural form of the head,” reports Huffington Post.

A spokesperson for FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation) also said athletes haven’t used, nor do they need caps of such size and configuration.”

The pushback has been so resounding that FINA has now agreed to “review” the policy.

The caps created by Black-owned British company Soul Cap are larger than those used at the Olympics, in order to accommodate fuller and longer hair and braids. They’re not expected to provide any competitive advantage because they’re bigger and would likely create more drag, or resistance, for a swimmer.

FINA’s policy has been criticized not only as a harsh slap at elite competitive swimmers but also as a symbol of the sport’s callous barriers to young Black swimmers.

The FINA ban is likely to “discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through … competitive swimming,” Soul Cap co-founder Toks Ahmed noted on social media. “For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial.”

Danielle Obe, the founding member of the Black Swimming Association in the U.K., told the Guardian that the decision reinforced the systemic and inequalities of the sport.

She noted that Olympic swimming caps were created for Caucasian hair. Obe said the caps don’t work for Black hair, which “defies gravity.”

“We need the space and the volume which products like the Soul Caps allow for,” she said. “ Inclusivity is realizing that no one head shape is normal.”