The Women’s Sports Foundation in early July 2021 learned of the decision by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) to ban Soul Cap-branded swim caps at all international competitions, including the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The decision was made because the caps, which are designed for natural Black hair, did not “[follow] the natural form of the head.” Shortly after its initial ruling, the governing body announced that it would reconsider its decision, though it would eventually reaffirm the ban just days before the Olympics began. FINA has encouraged Soul Cap to reapply for approval this fall, offering its full support throughout the process.
The full text of our letter can be found below.
Dear President Al-Musallam,
I am writing today from the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) which exists to enable girls and women to reach their potential in sport and life. Founded by Billie Jean King in 1974, we are the ally, advocate and catalyst for tomorrow’s leaders.
We are contacting you to express our deep concern regarding the recent decision by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) to ban the Soul Cap from international competition this summer.
This decision appears rooted in outdated policies that center around white athletes. For many non-white swimmers, caps like the Soul Cap are a welcome addition to swimming. In fact, research has found that concerns about hair is a barrier to sports participation for girls of color (Woolford, 2016).
Banning the Soul Cap and other caps that cater to natural Black hair from the elite competition is unacceptable and will continue to deter athletes with natural hair from entering or advancing in the sport. We know the tremendous lifelong social, health and leadership skills that sports provide. For this reason, it is important that sport is a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment to participants at every level. It is critical that girls of color are not only welcome in swimming, but that they see role models who look like them at the highest levels of sport.
Understanding that the ban is currently being reconsidered, we urge FINA to permanently allow the use of swim caps designed for diverse hairstyles, including at this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics. We also encourage you to take steps to ensure your decision-making is more inclusive in the future.
We stand with Soul Cap, the Black Swimming Association, and all others creating and advocating for greater support of athletes of color. We look forward to your announcement revoking the ban and creating space where Black swimmers are welcomed and celebrated.
Dr. Deborah Antoine
Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Sports Foundation