Reps. Watson Coleman and Lee Lead Letter to International Swimming Federation on Swim Caps for Natural Hair
Today, Congresswomen Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and Barbara Lee (CA-13) led a letter sent to the President of the International Swimming Federation (FINA) in response to the rejection of the use of swim caps designed for natural Black hair in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Joined by Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and cosponsors of H.R. 2116, the CROWN Act, the signers request FINA evaluate how barriers to participation, like the unavailability of swim caps, impact the representation of Black swimmers.
“We write to you to express our concern with your rationale for rejecting the use of swim caps designed for natural Black hair in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics,” the Members wrote. “It creates an unnecessary, exclusionary barrier to competitive swimming for underrepresented minorities, particularly people of African descent with Afro-textured or natural hairstyle. It is unfair and unequal.”
“Women of the African diaspora have notably been the overwhelming recipients of bias and discriminatory policies that have challenged the very definition of what is deemed “natural” and therefore acceptable,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “The decision and justification by the International Swimming Federation to ban the use of swim caps that accommodate the natural hair texture and/or hairstyles of Black women is not only insulting, inconsiderate, and irrational; but consequently serves as a deterrent in participation for Black swimmers. The natural state of one’s hair should never be a limitation for participation. It is my hope that FINA takes immediate and robust steps to improve their policies to better align with the goals of inclusivity and representation.”
“Black women face natural hair discrimination each and every day in the workplace, and now we’re seeing it on the world athletic stage,” said Rep. Lee. “There is no justification whatsoever to ban swim caps, which serve as an essential accessory for people with natural hair texture. This is an incredibly clear example of the ways in which systemic racism impacts every facet of life for black people, especially black women. We are urging that FINA take steps to reform this discriminatory policy and align themselves with the intended spirit of inclusion and diversity the Olympic games represent.”
*Joining Reps. Watson Coleman and Lee are Representatives Karen Bass, Yvette D. Clarke, Sheila Jackson Lee, Frederica S. Wilson, Stacey Plaskett, Danny K. Davis, Joyce Beatty, Dwight Evans, Katherine Clark, Ro Khanna, Bennie Thompson, Nikema Williams, Eleanor Norton, John Yarmuth, Donald M. Payne, Jr., Marilyn Strickland, Kweisi Mfume, Gwen Moore, Andre Carson, Bobby Rush , Hank Johnson, Brenda Lawrence, and Jahana Hayes.
The full text of the House letter can be found below:
Dear Husain Al-Musallam,
We write to you to express our concern with your rationale for rejecting the use of swim caps designed for natural Black hair in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. It creates an unnecessary, exclusionary barrier to competitive swimming for underrepresented minorities, particularly people of African descent with Afro-textured or natural hairstyle. It is unfair and unequal.
International Swimming Federation (FINA) described the caps designed to accommodate natural hair as unsuitable because they do not follow “the natural form of the head” and then justified the decision on the grounds that to their “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration.” Although the decision to reject swim caps for natural hair is now under review, FINA’s existing policies and statements are emblematic of the clear and persistent lack of diversity within the sport.
In a joint study conducted by the University of Memphis and University of Nevada-Las Vegas, 65 percent of African-American children would like to swim more than they do and 76 percent of parents reported that their children would be more likely to want to participate in swimming if they saw a talented swimmer that looked like them. FINA has a responsibility to act in accordance with its stated values of inclusivity and representation. Embracing swim caps that accommodate the natural state of afro-textured hair goes a long way in improving representation and shows aspiring Black swimmers that they too are welcomed in the sport.
Being more inclusive means understanding the barriers to participation in swimming that act as a deterrent to future generations of athletes. We respectfully request FINA to evaluate and report on the barriers to participation in swimming for communities of color and provide recommendations on how to improve participation rates for these demographics. Additionally, while reviewing your swim cap decision, we urge you to consider the impacts on diversity and representation in the sport. We look forward to further engagement with you and receiving a timely response.