Britain’s First Black Olympic Swimmer Wants Black Hair Caps Approved

David Davies – Pa Images / PA Images by Getty Images

Alice Dearing, Britain’s first Black Olympic swimmer, wants organizers for the upcoming Games to approve swimming caps that better fit Black hair.

Dearing is one of four blacks who have set up the Black Swim Association in the UK, which aims to make swimming more accessible for ethnic minorities, and told the BBC in 2019 that she understands why Black swimmers would leave over their hair.

One of the barriers that many black women face is a way to swim while maintaining the health of their natural hair. Many swim caps are too small for protective styles such as braids and looms.

“It sounds ridiculous, but it can be really damaging to your self-image and confidence, because chlorine ruins hair,” Dearing told the BBC, “but it’s even harder for girls with thicker hair that most Black girls have. . “

The International Swimming Federation (FINA) has rejected an application by Soul Cap, which makes swimming caps designed for Black Hair, for approval for Olympic athletes to wear their cap in competitions. FINA said the caps are inappropriate because they don’t follow “the natural shape of the head.”

Following widespread coverage and crowding of the public online, FINA contacted Soul Cap to apologize and offer them assistance with their candidacy to become approved for international competition, including the upcoming Olympics.

Dearing told BuzzFeed News that she hopes the Black swim caps will finally be approved.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I think this is likely to go through and go forward and be usable at international competitions. I really hope so.

“I know a lot of people want to be on the right side of history with this. So I’m very optimistic that there will be a positive outcome from it.”

Dearing said many organizations need to be educated and she is glad they are listening.

“It’s not just thrown aside, as it may have been done in the past,” she said. “I’m not insinuating that any organization would do that on purpose, but decades ago these things wouldn’t have been so major, it wouldn’t have been so seen and recognized.”

Dearing said she learned to swim about 5 years old, getting into competitive swimming at the age of 8 after her mom saw an advertisement for a local swimming club.

Morgan Harlow / Getty Images

Dearing and her brother took swimming lessons together and she said watching competitions is a family activity.

“We recorded them, would respect them, as if it was like a proper family affair with me, my mother and one of my brothers,” she said.

Fast forward a few years and Dearing himself swam in those competitions and qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. Although she came in 19th place, her participation is still historic as the first Black swimmer for Team Britain.

Dearing also co-founded the Black Swimming Association, which aims to encourage and diversify the people who swim in the UK. Dearing said she wants to return to the sport because it has given her so much good in her life.

“I want other people to know that those opportunities are available to them, and not to be pigeonhole into something because of their race or because society thinks they should do it,” Dearing said.

Dearing has also become a model for many. She said it’s not something she thought she could be and said it’s surreal. “It’s like, I’m just the girl from Birmingham, just a girl from the Midlands in England,” she said. “So it’s a little crazy. You never really think you’re in that position to help influence or help inspire or change someone’s life so positively. ”

Although Dearing is one of the few Black swimmers known internationally, she said that In the swimming community she was not always the only non-white swimmer.

As she got older, she started hearing whispers from people saying that black people don’t swim and people seemed surprised that she was swimming.

“We always laughed because my mother, my mother originally from Ghana, she grew up swimming and it was part of her lifestyle,” Dearing said. “This is not just a joke, as this actually affects people’s lives and affects the choices they make every day. That’s why I’m so passionate about it. ”

Dearing said that although she is not very happy with her Olympic performance, she has received messages of support.

“Literally everyone else is just like, well done to get there in the first place, well done to stand up, and have these conversations be part of something bigger than yourself and advocating for change,” she said.

Dearing is one of the athletes participating in Procter & Gamble’s Athletes for Good Fund, which gives 52 athletes $ 10,000 for initiatives for their local communities.

“It was so overwhelming how so many strangers sent me messages, too many to which I can’t even respond,” she said. “But you know, I can really feel supported and uplifted by all these people. And there’s a feeling I’ll never forget, honestly, it’s so powerful. I’m so honored that people really took the time to support me. “

Dearing said she didn’t get a chance to see some of the live competitions when the Olympics were in the UK, but she’s excited about the Paris Games because it’s so close to home.

“Obviously, I’m just a little annoyed and I never appreciated that London 2012 while it was around, but having kind of, like, a second chance with Paris … I’m really excited about, hopefully, that. An opportunity to compete as an athlete there as well. “

Clive Rose / Getty Images

Leave a Comment