Inclusive swimming caps designed for black athletes have been banned from the Olympics as they "don't follow the natural form of the head".
The headwear, designed by British company Soul Cap to fit natural Afro hair, has not been approved for use at the coming Tokyo games by the International Swimming Federation (Fina).
The body said that to its “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require … caps of such size and configuration”.
The caps, founded by the black-owned brand in 2017, are designed with a larger fit to accommodate Afro hair as well as braids or dreadlocks. The concept was devised by founders Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed after they observed swimmers struggling with ill-fitting caps.
Soul Cap caps are not believed to provide any competitive advantage for athletes; in fact, their larger size could create more resistance in the water.
The ban is likely to “discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through ... competitive swimming", Soul Cap's founders said on social media after the Fina ruling.
"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. For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial."
Soul Cap previously partnered with British swimmer Alice Dearing, who this year will become the first black female swimmer to represent the UK at the Olympics, on its campaigns.
Danielle Obe, founding member of the Black Swimming Association, told UK newspaper The Guardian that the ruling "confirms a lack of diversity in [the sport]".
“We need the space and the volume which products like the Soul Caps allow for. Inclusivity is realising that no one head shape is ‘normal’."
Following widespread backlash after the ruling was announced, Fina confirmed it will "review" the policy.
The body is “committed to ensuring that all aquatics athletes have access to appropriate swimwear for competition where this swimwear does not confer a competitive advantage", it said.
“Fina is currently reviewing the situation with regards to Soul Cap and similar products, understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation.”