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A swimming cap made for Black hair gets official approval after previous Olympic ban

Alice Dearing, Great Britian's first Black swimmer at the Olympics, called the news of Soul Cap's approval "exciting."
Alex Pantling
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Alice Dearing, Great Britian's first Black swimmer at the Olympics, called the news of Soul Cap's approval "exciting."

A swimming cap made specifically for natural Black hair has received official approval from the worldwide governing body for competitive swimming.

Soul Cap is a covering made especially to protect hair that's thick, curly, braided or otherwise textured — which is often difficult to fit into smaller swim caps.

FINA initially rejected the cap's use at the Olympics last year, claiming that athletes competing at the world stage have "never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration," according to The Associated Press.

The report said that the organization also determined that the cap does not "[follow] the natural form of the head," a rule that is outlined in FINA's requirements for approved swimwear.

This ban sparked global conversations about inclusivity and existing barriers within the world of competitive swimming.

Danielle Obe, chair of the Black Swimming Association, told Sky Sports last year that, "by and large, hair is a significant barrier to aquatics for many women especially and many people of color from our communities. So [the Soul Cap] should be considered as a product that overcomes this barrier."

FINA walked back last year's rejection this week after "a period of "review and discussion on cap design," along with Soul Cap creators, Brent Nowicki, executive director at FINA told the U.K.'s Metro.

"Promoting diversity and inclusivity is at the heart of FINA's work, and it is very important that all aquatic athletes have access to the appropriate swimwear," he told the outlet.

The British Olympic swimmer (and Soul Cap ambassador) Alice Dearing said the news was exciting, in a statement to NPR. Dearing became the first Black swimmer who represented Great Britain at an Olympic level last year. She also co-founded the Black Swimming Association in 2020.

"I know that a lot of people value the option this cap brings them when going swimming. Knowing that it is acceptable to compete in this cap at the highest level of sport sends a message that hair should not be a barrier which stops people from participating," Dearing said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz