The Olympics Ban On Afro Swim Caps Is Targeting Black Athletes

Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Images via Getty Images.
In a disappointing move for many Black elite athletes, the Olympics recently announced an official ban on Soul Caps, a brand of swim caps catered to the specific hair needs of Black swimmers.
According to Metro, FINA (the international governing board of swimming) rejected the application for Soul Caps to be worn during competition in the Tokyo Olympics, under the premise that the extra-large caps — made to fit over and protect thick, curly, natural hair, as well as protective styles such as dreadlocks, weaves, extensions, and braids — don't follow "the natural form of the head."
Understandably, news of the Soul Cap ban has sparked outrage, with many people expressing disappointment and citing the restriction, as well its explanation, as a form of "scientific racism."
"So they don't offer any scientific or even anecdotal evidence that these caps give any sort of performance advantage," writes Tracy King, a UK-based writer and columnist. "But instead [they] describe the swim caps as unsuitable due to them not 'following the natural form of the head'. This is scientific racism at its most clear." She adds in a subthread: "What they are saying there is 'natural' means white."
FINA's official statement further affirms the Soul Caps restriction on the grounds that elite athletes have "never used, neither require to use, caps of such size." This line of reasoning provides a dangerously narrow definition of what an "elite athlete" looks like, and could be detrimental in diversification efforts in the sport of swimming. Soul Cap co-founders Toks Ahmed and Michael Champman describe it as a "failure to acknowledge the diversity of competitive swimmers."
What's more, the ban may discourage young Black athletes from pursuing the sport of swimming at all. Following the ruling, The Black Swimming Association issued a statement acknowledging the harmful ripple effects that could come from this step backward. "A week after celebrating Alice Dearing becoming the first Black-Brit to qualify for the Olympics, we are extremely disappointed to see the FINA decision," the statement reads. "[It's] one that will discourage many younger athletes from ethnic minority communities from pursuing competitive swimming."
Moreover, this week also saw Sha'Carri Richardson disqualified for a positive cannabis test, and Namibian runners Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi disqualified from the 400m event for having testosterone levels that surpassed International Olympics Committee regulations, all of which speak to a larger conversation on the visibility of Black women athletes in Tokyo — and around the world.

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