The International Swimming Federation (FINA) says it is “reviewing” its decision not to allow the use of swimming caps designed for natural Black hair at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
FINA drew heavy criticism after Soul Cap, a UK-based brand, announced that the governing body for aquatic sports refused to approve the caps designed for swimmers with “thick, curly, and voluminous hair” in international competitions. The reason given was that their caps do not “follow the natural form of the head,” Soul Cap told the BBC.
On Friday, FINA acknowledged the widespread condemnation and said it understood “the importance of inclusivity and representation.”
The statement posted to its official site read: “FINA is committed to ensuring that all aquatics athletes have access to appropriate swimwear for competition where this swimwear does not confer a competitive advantage.”
“FINA is currently reviewing the situation with regards to ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products, understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation,” it continued.
The governing body pointed out that there is currently “no restriction” on the use of Soul Cap swim caps for recreational and teaching purposes.
Soul Cap founders Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed Salawudeen had said their headwear plays a vital role in promoting racial diversity in competitive swimming and FINA’s rejection would discourage younger athletes from pursuing the sport.
Recent figures from Swim England show that 95% of Black adults and 80% of Black children in England do not swim.
“For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial,” they said in a statement shared on the official Soul Cap Instagram page. “FINA’s recent dismissal could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through local, county and national competitive swimming.”
Alice Dearing – who previously partnered with Soul Cap to help promote greater diversity in the sport – is set to become the first Black female swimmer to represent Great Britain at the Olympics after qualifying for the open-water marathon last month.
Responding to news of the rejection, the Black Swimming Association (BSA) said it was “extremely disappointed” by FINA’s decision adding that it “confirms the lack of diversity in elite swimming and the lack of urgency for change.”
FINA said it “appreciates the efforts of ‘Soul Cap’ and other suppliers to ensure everyone has the chance to enjoy the water” and intends to “speak with the manufacturer of the ‘Soul Cap’ about utilizing their products through the FINA Development Centers.”
“FINA expects to make its consideration of ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products part of wider initiatives aimed at ensuring there are no barriers to participation in swimming, which is both a sport and a vital life skill.”
CNN has reached out to Soul Cap and FINA for further comment.