Alice Dearing is a thick-headed woman with a thick afro. It’s nearly impossible to cover in swimming caps because of its volume. If her hair gets wet, it shrinks. The chlorine? Pool chemicals can cause serious damage that will require a lot of time and money to fix.
The first Black female swimmer on Britain’s Olympic team uses the the Soul Cap, an extra-large silicone covering designed specifically to protect dreadlocks, weaves, hair extensions, braids, and thick and curly hair. Dearing was forbidden to wear the cap during her Olympic debut in the women’s marathon swim 10k.
FINA, the international swimming competitions body, has rejected the application of Soul Cap makers from Britain for the Tokyo Games. It cited no prior instance where swimmers had needed “caps such as these sizes and configurations” and also wondered if it could give an advantage in that the water flow is disrupted.
The outcry on social media and within Black swimming circles was swift. Conversations continued for days. The Change.org petition was launched, and Dearing, co-founder of Black Swimming Association and ambassador for the cap, publicly expressed dismay.
This was more than just a ban on swimming caps for people of color. It was another injustice to ignore it.
Five years have passed since the Rio Games when Simone Manuel, an American woman and the first Black female to win Olympic gold. There has not been much progress in the number of elite-level swimmers of color since then.
Dearing is also a Black swimmer. Donta Katai from Zimbabwe was the first Black to represent her country. At almost every international meet, there are very few swimmers of color. Only two U.S. females are black, Natalie Hinds and Manuel Hinds.
People who are familiar with the situation claim that the causes of the shortage and the racism that underlie them run deep into history.
Manuel and Hinds don’t understand the disqualification of the Soul Cap. The sponsorship of other companies to make caps for their hair was provided by both Americans. However, they were disappointed to learn that the Soul Cap was made specifically to help swimmers of color by a Black-owned company.
Manuel stated that “it doesn’t do well for inclusion in the sport.”