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Unpacking the afro swimming cap ruling

Unpacking the afro swimming cap ruling

If you haven’t heard of Soul Cap before the Olympics ruling, here’s a quick rundown. Started by two best friends, the brand fills a gap in the market by supplying caps to swimmers with Afro type hair.

We came across Soul Cap on Instagram a few months ago and instantly felt excited about the brand, it was one of those moments where you find something you didn’t even know you were looking for! We had never really considered the issue of swim caps but now a solution was presented to us, we were ecstatic. We thought of all the black kids who skipped out of swimming in their youth due to their hair, and all of the adults who could finally pursue swimming as a serious hobby.

The Stats and Facts

You’ve probably all heard the stereotype that black people can’t swim but where does it come from?

According to a report published by Sport England, 80% of young black people and children in England do not swim, rising to 95% where adults are concerned. (Sport England, 2020)

There are many possible reasons for these statistics: swimming is costly, particularly competitively and access has historically been a huge issue. Segregation meant that black people were banned from public pools and lacked education surrounding the topic. The result? Fear. Fear is a powerful emotion, especially when passed down generationally, it can be paralyzing and safer to ignore than to confront.

Although access issues have improved since then, representation is still a big problem. Why would representation improve when essential equipment like adequate swimming caps are overlooked? The experience of being Black in the West seems to be a series of compromises, why should black swimmers do the mental and physical gymnastics to ‘tame’ their hair so they fit into caps, when they could simply be catered for?

The international body of swimming’s decision to reject Soul Cap’s application to be certified for use at competitions is a blatant disregard for black swimmers and shows that they have little desire to diversify the sport. By banning Soul Cap, all the work done to inspire new generations of Black swimmers could be stopped and even undone. To say that the caps don’t follow “the natural form of the head” is entirely ignorant and naturally excludes those with bigger hair types.

What can we do?

Although disappointing, I can’t say the decision came as a surprise, which is a problem in itself. We have come to expect objections to things that help black people. So what can we do? We can continue to fight for what is right and we most definitely should show support for Soul Cap! Change can be slow and tedious, but if enough of us rally behind causes, we have a greater chance of making a difference.

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