Olympic committee refuses to approve swim caps designed for natural hair


Swimming is not a diverse sport and has remained pretty white over the years. At the Rio Olympics, Simone Manuel, a Black woman, won two gold and two silver medals in swimming, opening the doors to BIPOC representation in the sport. Soul Cap also saw an opportunity to make swimming a more inclusive sport. Soul Cap, founded in 2017, creates swim caps for African American swimmers with natural hair. They hope to make it so that Black people didn’t have to choose between taking care of their hair and swimming. Soul Cap has petitioned the FINA committee to allow their swim caps to be used in the sport. The committee decided not to certify the caps for use, stating that they were too large and don’t follow the “natural form of the head.” Below are more details from Metro via People:

The outlet states that the FINA committee said to their “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the International events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration,” adding that the caps don’t follow “the natural form of the head.”

Soul Cap, created in 2017, is a company that designs swimming caps specifically for natural hair in order for athletes to compete easily without struggling with cap size or the threat of damaging their hair. Following the decision, the company released a statement on social media explaining their disappointment in the decision and what it means for inclusivity within the sport.

“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 co-founders Toks Ahmed and Michael 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.”

[From People]

Tell us you are racist without telling us you are racist. The FINA committee had an opportunity here to make all Olympic sports inclusive and they failed. Reading this story not even a month after the situation with Simone Biles being penalized for being a supreme athlete has really irritated me. I feel these national and international sports committees are working to exclude Black athletes in particular or punish them for excelling. We already know it is because Black athletes often dominate. This ruling doesn’t take into consideration that Black athletes need special accommodations for their hair. It’s also purposely making it difficult for Black athletes to enter a sport that has been mostly exclusive to white athletes. I feel Soul Cap should continue to push for inclusivity and continue to apply to have their caps accepted as an alternative in these competitions. At some point, I hope the FINA Committee reconsiders this ruling because it really makes them look racist and inflexible, especially with a comment like “the cap doesn’t follow the natural form of the head.” What the hell does that even mean?

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51 Responses to “Olympic committee refuses to approve swim caps designed for natural hair”

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  1. Nikki* says:

    This is pretty maddening. How long until RESPECT happens??

  2. SarahCS says:

    the caps don’t follow “the natural form of the head.”

    Yes, that is the whole point! Wow, how to be any clearer that you don’t want black people to be involved in your sport. Racism is getting so much louder.

    • Esmom says:

      Yeah, that rationale made me snort out loud. Way to be arbitrary about something that is completely arbitrary to begin with. I mean swimmers could choose to swim without a cap at all if they wanted. WTAF does the cap’s design matter? As a former swimmer, I am incensed by this.

    • Mac says:

      Don’t forget they are trying to get Sha’Carri Richardson kicked out of the olympics for weed. Most definitely not a performance enhancing drug.

  3. Nanny to the Rescue says:

    Isn’t the point of head-shaped cap the aerodynamics? Technically, this natural hair type of cap puts the athlete into disadvantage, so why is it forbidden? It’s the athlete’s problem.

    • Esmom says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Technically it could put the swimmer at a disadvantage, which I’d think would make these ignorant Fs happy. Really, though, a lot of the benefits of high tech swim stuff is psychological anyway. This is beyond ridiculous.

    • Anony83 says:

      Yeah, I’m a swimmer and swim coach, and that’s what most of the swim community was talking about with this decision. In reality, an athlete like Simone Manuel wouldn’t use one of these caps *in competition* because it’s less streamlined so it would be less efficient and could be a competitive disadvantage (especially in the sprints).

      But, that’s what makes it so confusing, if an athlete decided they wanted to use this cap regardless of the issues for racing (as opposed to practice), why would you stop them?

      And we’re talking about a sport here where the elite athletes at the Olympics use several thousand dollars worth of high-tech suits that *are* designed to enhance performance and frequently skirt the edges of technological doping.

      I will say though – this decision by FINA only applies to the highest level international competitions. Local governing bodies can still approve these caps for use and, I believe, they are legal for competition under the USA swimming rules (though in some leagues you’d have to cover up the logo, but that’s a different issue entirely).

    • Ann says:

      Yes, that is odd. I did swim team for years as a kid. I’m white but I have thick curly hair and I hated having to tuck it into those swim caps, which were so tight and uncomfortable but also helped you move more easily. These caps don’t provide any advantage, quite the opposite, so it’s all about appearances? It makes no sense.

    • Sister says:

      Window-dressing politics. Show business politics. Somebody wanted to appear to be sensitive to the needs of … .

  4. sunny says:

    Truly mist of the current swim caps on the market are awful for black natural hair. I stopped wearing one years ago because of this,

    This news is a bummer.

  5. tamsin says:

    I wonder how many POC are on the IOC? How can there be fairness and equity in decision making if there is dominance by one group over another?

  6. Merricat says:

    It’s infuriatingly stupid. I have no patience for purposeful stupidity.

    • BlueToile says:

      Yes. I mean, what is wrong with people? I swear some people just have broken brains. I just can’t with them.

  7. TeamMeg says:

    This ruling sounds horribly racist. Caps need to be regulation, but that doesn’t mean one style only. There could be more than one approved style! Shouldn’t the real issue be if the caps provide a speed advantage? It seems to me that having more volume to the head would produce more drag and slow a swimmer down. This could be determined by testing. If the natural cap doesn’t provide a speed advantage, what is the problem?

  8. Lemons says:

    If Black Olympic swimmers come out in support of this company, I’ll rock with them.

    Until then, this looks like it was not created for professional sport competition. If people want to use it at the high school, regional, intramural level, that seems fine to me…But this just looks like they were seeking a branding push and the Olympics committee just said, no, don’t use us for that.

    • Rose says:

      This is what I read into it as well.
      I do hope that people with naturally full-bodied hair have the right to wear swim caps that protect their assets. It makes no sense to force anyone at all to wear protective gear that doesn’t fit.

    • Anony83 says:

      You’re right that it would be unusual for a swimmer to wear a cap like this in international competition (though if they *wanted* to and were okay with the competitive disadvantage, I question why they shouldn’t be allowed to make that choice).

      But at the USA Swimming level, caps like these (I don’t know if it is this brand) are used in practices and at Age Group level (kids) swimming. You might see them at regional meets but it would be unusual to see them at Nationals (for example) but, again, it should be the swimmer’s choice and USA Swimming does allow caps like these in competition.

      I don’t think the issue is really whether or not swimmers choose to use the caps, it’s whether they should have the choice to wear the cap, and it’s unfortunate that FINA felt the need to deny them that choice.

    • nina says:

      Might be good for use at the gym pool. Those pool managers always complaining about long hair clogging the filters. Some of them are like Stassi guards in enforcing their swimming cap rules. I would get one though because I have fairly long hair and those regular caps are murder on my hair.

  9. Oh_Hey says:

    The history of a lack of black folks in swim is one of racism. Period. And it doesn’t take deep dive into google or a book find it.

    This is that just a new spin on old ways. Like – how in 2021 do you not understand that black folks have different hair and hair needs? Tell me there’s no one black on deciding committee without telling? Considering the texture and thickness of other POC, tell me there aren’t enough or none of them either. As a black woman that has tried to put on a regular swim cap before – lol to anyone who doesn’t understand why this is racist.

    • Anony83 says:

      I will say, caps like these are legal under USA Swimming’s rules and I’ve had several athletes use similar ones (I don’t know if it is the same brand).

      FINA is the international governing body and they are a hot mess on a good day but this is a terrible decision even by their standards.

  10. LeonsMomma says:

    This is awful and as a former swimmer racist AF.
    When in training before a big meet, we weren’t allowed to shave our legs, then would do it before as the hair and skin would “shave seconds” off of our times.
    So if a swimmer chooses to keep their hair natural, they are already at a disadvantage time wise due to the added weight (that is not being used, as opposed to muscle weight which is being used.) The cap would not give them an advantage, as the weight issue remains the same.

  11. Esme says:

    The “natural form of the head” rule is to avoid the proliferation of aerodynamic caps for speed advantage. That said, the natural hair friendly caps could be approved for other competitions (local, university, national) – is the Olympic authority the only one?
    Swimming is a wonderful sport, any small thing to encourage people to try should be pursued as a matter of public policy.

    • Scal says:

      It’s the same reason they don’t allow for a lot of swim suits (they banned those crazy speedo ones a few years back) they have guidelines preventing equipment giving you a ‘advantage’. Not following the shape of the body (arms/legs) or head is a thing.

      As floppy as that cap wears at the back I don’t know any elite swimmers that would want to wear that anyway. I haven’t heard any POC Olympian’s asking for it. Maybe it would be good for little kids at summer league? Would that be more of a USA swimming decision?

  12. LLW says:

    I am a Black woman. I have locs to my waist. Soul Caps don’t work for more than a few minutes, unfortunately. I’ve tried different sizes & have friends & family with braids, fros & locs who also tried the caps with poor results. I completely understand why they aren’t up to Olympic standard.
    We were thrilled at the prospect of finally having quality swim caps, but the idea is better than the execution.
    Not everything is racist.

    • Lemons says:

      Finally, a voice of reason! The Olympics is not automatically racist because they are not “endorsing” this product. I had a feeling it wasn’t made for the “Olympic-level” of sport competition, but this is definitely something they can try to improve upon.

      • LLW says:

        Yep. I reserve my outrage for where it is actually warranted. I’m sure the company will get a nice boost from this, but then new customers will see what me & my peeps already know.

      • Ange says:

        Honestly as someone who works in sport I find most of the outrage about anything like this comes from a place of not knowing much about it at all. The comments about an international organisation that covers most of the world being nothing but old white men when it’s not even the Olympic committee’s decision tickle me especially…

    • FITTB85 says:

      LLW, have you given your review to the company? It sounds like there is a market for swim caps that work on natural hair but the product needs tweaking.

      • LLW says:

        No, but the reviews on Amaz confirm. I just ignored them like you tend to do when you have high hopes. The company knows the deal. And if you don’t have much hair, they may be…ok.
        I’m sure the company knew FULL WELL they would not be approved for Olympic competition. But I don’t blame them for trying. And yes, if someone could nail down the design, it would be life altering for natural haired water babies.
        As the commenter below this suggested, swim caps aren’t really made for folks with hair.

    • FITTB85 says:

      LLW, so right that swim caps aren’t meant for people with hair.

      I’m always shocked that Allison Schmidt (4 time Olympian/ Michael Phelps BFF) chooses to have super long hair. She trained in Michigan for a long time too, I can’t imagine the annoyance of getting that hair into a swim cap everyday and then trying to dry that much hair to go outside in the subzero temps! (We all know swim caps don’t really keep hair that dry…)

      • AnnaC says:

        Anecdotally, most women swimmers, at least on the US Team, seem to have long hair, which always surprises me. Katie Ledecky’s is the shortest at chin length.

    • BlueToile says:

      I am not black and not a competitive swimmer, so my opinion carries less weight. However, with all the pushback more recently from schools and organizations against hair and hairstyles of POC, I have to side-eye this decision and any decision that limits the choices of those with natural hair or weaves, etc. If the committee didn’t want to approve it because they found it ineffective or not meeting performance standards, why not just say that? “Following the shape of the head” just sounds so dismissive and arbitrary.

  13. MissF says:

    Tbf, swimming caps aren’t ideal for anyone who isn’t bald. The tears from all the girls when trying to stuff long locks into painfully tight swimming caps… 😩

    • detritus says:

      Agreed.
      or they are giant and hilarious on some of the smaller kids, especially if they’re using the thicker latex.

      I hated putting them on, taking them off and they don’t keep your hair dry so you’re still wet and bah.

    • Kviby says:

      I appreciate this discussion. My hair is long but also not as thick as it used to be due to bleach. Since I have a swimming pool and I dye my hair and want to protect it somewhat, i grabbed a cap from a local dollar store. I thought there was something wrong with my head that it is so uncomfortable and difficult to use! I was thinking of ordering this but someone said it didn’t last long I suppose that means it leaked. From what I’ve learned this company is founded by a white guy. Maybe someone else can do better as we need options! Also it’s so unflattering when I do get it kind of on. Not a huge problem in my life but it would be cool if someone found a way to invent something effective

  14. Lindy says:

    Wait, so they’re basically saying that heads, with hair, that grows out of those heads, has some kind of god-ordained “natural form”? And that curiously, this so-called “natural form” just so happens to exclude many Black people and the “natural form” of heads and hair that they have? Mmmmhmmmm. Yeah. Ok.

    There’s actually a long history of the way that “natural” has been weaponized against Black people, Indigenous people, LGBTQ+, and women. There’s something called “natural law” which comes from medieval Catholic philosophy, and it’s all about how what God ordains should become the basis for civil law in society. This idea of natural law was the justification for enslaving Indigenous people when Europeans colonized other places, it’s currently used for a lot of the misogynistic anti-abortion laws that the GOP is successfully passing at the state level, it’s been used to criminalize non-hetero sexual activity, and it’s been used to explain why wYt supremacy was supposed to be the natural law of the universe.

    So whenever I see anyone pushing some idea of “natural” to justify racist, misogynistic, homophobic behavior, I know *exactly* what’s really going on.

    This is straight up ugly racist garbage.

  15. Freddy says:

    Makes you wonder what does the Olympic committee look like…I visualize a bunch of old White men…..

  16. Erika Holzhausen says:

    Anyone who has done competitive swimming knows these caps would be a HUGE disadvantage. I doubt any professional swimmer would use it. Also, as someone who was a competitive swimmer (3x state champion) the current swim caps can get huge! I once fit my entire body in one under water. None of my black or latin team mates had issues with the current way caps are designed. With that said, banning them seams silly because no professional athlete would use it anyways, but mainly because if a swimmer wants to screw themselves over by using one in competition, that is their proogatove.

  17. tealily says:

    As much as I enjoy watching the Olympics and support the athletes, I truly don’t understand why we’re still doing this. They are racist AF and hurt the communities where they’re hosted more than they help. It all seems so antiquated.

  18. NotSoSocialButterfly says:

    What
    The
    Actual
    Fuck

  19. Stacy Dresden says:

    BOOOOOOO discrimination. Serious action needs to be taken on this issue.

  20. Oya, your post has something annoying and somewhat offensive in it.

    You mix African American as synonymous with Black which is inaccurate. You can be black without being African American. You must be American, an American citizen and racially black, to be African American. A person born and raised in London, who is black, is a Black Londoner/British person- they have no ties to African American culture or history. A person born and raised in South Africa is South African. They are black South Africans. They are not African Americans lol. Most black South Africans have never been to the Americas; they may not even speak English.

    Also, since this “soul cap” is located in London as it says on its Instagram post, is it really for African-American swimmers? It seems like it’s for black swimmers with natural hair.

  21. Ana170 says:

    I hadn’t hear of Soulcaps before. I think part of the issue is that it doesn’t appear that any competing swimmers requested them. If Simone Manuel or some other black swimmer asked and was denied, I’d see a reason for the uproar but it sounds like they were looking for a way to market their product. I suppose it worked because I do plan on looking into it for myself.

  22. JRenee says:

    A big eff you to swimmers who might want to use this cap. 2021 and we’re still here.