An anti-racist group of members of the European Parliament have accused the global sports community, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC), of having “institutional structures and rules that exclude people of colour and Black women specifically.”
In a letter to Thomas Bach and Sebastian Coe, presidents of the IOC and World Athletics, the Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup of the European Parliament said that the International Swimming Federation’s (FINA) effective banning of the Soul Cap at international tournaments, including the Olympics, “reflects stigmatisation of Black hair and leads to institutional inequalities, especially targeting Black women.”
Soul Cap, a UK-based brand, said that FINA refused to approve the swim caps designed for “thick, curly, and voluminous hair” because they do not “follow the natural form of the head,” the company told the BBC.
The politicians’ letter, shared exclusively with CNN, calls for the ban to be lifted because the Olympics are supposed to be based on fair play and equal opportunity. “May the best person win,” it adds.
The MEPs suggest that the presidents not only admit that the rules are of an “exclusionary nature,” but go further and “establish frameworks and policies to prevent similar cases of exclusion.”
Explaining their particular interest in this case, the MEPs said that the European Union “is based on values of equality and non-discrimination,” and that the EU’s treaties encourage the bloc to promote fairness and openness in all sporting competition.
FINA said on July 2 that it would review the ban though no decision had been reached at the time of writing. CNN attempted to contact FINA but has not received a reply.
CNN also made contact with the IOC, who deflected the question to the Tokyo Games press office, and World Athletics, who referred CNN back to FINA.
Samira Rafaela, the Dutch MEP who initiated the letter, said: “[FINA is] refusing to allow Soul Cap caps and the attached reasoning reflects nothing but ignorance and racism … Our call to the IOC is simple: This can’t be the intention of the rules, so it’s about time to change the rules.”
The letter also criticizes the international sports community beyond the ban on the Soul Cap, adding that the “stigmatisation of Black women and their bodies is not a new phenomenon.”
It highlights the case of two 18-year-old cisgender sprinters from Namibia, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, who have been banned from the women’s 400-meter dash due to their natural testosterone levels being too high for women’s sports.
“Mboma and Masilingi are only able to join the Olympics if they agree to take drugs to lower their natural testosterone levels,” the letter says.
Rafaela said in an email to CNN that “This is the world upside down,” adding that: “If the IOC does not take its responsibility to guarantee an inclusive and anti-racist sport, politicians should remind them. It is 2021, rules and legislation based on stereotypes must be changed. This is the only way to make sports, really, for everyone.”