Soul Cap, a British company that makes swim caps to support swimmers with diverse hairstyles, is speaking out after it said the the governing body for water sports competitions did not certify its caps for the Olympics.
"We hoped to further our work for diversity in swimming by having our swim caps certified for competition, so swimmers at any level don’t have to choose between the sport they love and their hair," the company wrote in a statement posted on Instagram.
Soul Cap sells four sizes of swim caps to accommodate athletes with long hair, dreadlocks and Afro hairstyles. The largest size, XXL, retails online for $26.49.
"For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial. FINA’s recent dismissal could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through local, county and national competitive swimming," the company wrote. "We feel there’s always room for improvement, but there's only so much grassroots and small brands can do — we need the top to be receptive to positive change."
FINA, the international governing body for water sports competitions, states in its rules that apparel companies must submit new designs and materials for approval before they are cleared to be used in competition. Referees also have the authority to exclude any competitors who don't comply with the rules, according to a guidebook posted online by FINA. Soul Cap submitted its application last year before it was denied, according to Yahoo! News.
The organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TODAY.
The Black Swimming Association, a nonprofit in the United Kingdom that works to bring more diversity to water sports, said in a statement the group was "extremely disappointed" by the decision. The group also noted that it comes as Alice Dearing, who is a Soul Cap ambassador, will make history as the first Black woman to represent Team Great Britain in swimming at the Olympics.
The decision is "one that we believe will no doubt discourage many younger athletes from ethnic minority backgrounds from pursuing competitive swimming," the Black Swimming Association wrote on Instagram.
The group also took aim at the reported rationale FINA issued behind its decision to not approve the caps.
"The Soul Swim Caps — specifically used by people with long, voluminous and Afro hair were barred by FINA because 'to the best of their knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use camps of such size and configuration,'" the Black Swimming Association wrote. "We believe this statement made by FINA confirms what we already know: The lack of diversity in elite swimming and in the higher positions in global aquatics, and the lack of urgency for change."
Dearing, who is a co-founder of the Black Swimming Association, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TODAY, however Soul Cap paid tribute to her in a post on Friday calling her a "trailblazer" and a role model for showing "what it looks like on the world stage to love both your hair and the sport unapologetically."
While the news is disappointing, Soul Cap is seeing it as an opportunity to talk about diversity in sports and reach new customers.
The company posted a message on its website thanking its new customers for their "overwhelming support" and warned that due to the influx of new orders, it could take an additional 7 to 10 days for people to receive their merchandise.
"A huge thanks to all who have supported us and our work so far," added their statement. "We don’t see this as a set back, but a chance to open up a dialogue to make a bigger difference."