Some members of the European Parliament have accused the global sports community, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC), of having “institutional structures and rules that exclude people of colour and Black women specifically.”
In a letter to Thomas Bach and Sebastian Coe, presidents of the IOC and World Athletics, the Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup of the European Parliament said that the International Swimming Federation’s (FINA) effective banning of the ‘Soul Cap’ at international tournaments, including the Olympics, “reflects stigmatisation of Black hair and leads to institutional inequalities, especially targeting Black women.”
Soul Cap, a UK-based brand was banned early this month by the IOC. The caps are used by women with thick, curly and voluminous hair, and prevents the hair from disrupting the view of athletes while swimming.
Soul Cap in a statement over the weekend said that FINA refused to approve the swim caps designed for “thick, curly, and voluminous hair” because they do not “follow the natural form of the head,” the company told the BBC.
However, in a letter by the European politicians, the Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup of the European Parliamen, called for the ban to be lifted because the Olympics are supposed to be based on fair play and equal opportunity.
The MEPs suggest that the IOC admits that the rules are of an “exclusionary nature,” but go further and “establish frameworks and policies to prevent similar cases of exclusion.”
Explaining their particular interest in this case, the MEPs said that the European Union “is based on values of equality and non-discrimination,” and that the EU’s treaties encourage the bloc to promote fairness and openness in all sporting competition.
Samira Rafaela, the Dutch MEP who initiated the letter, said: “[FINA is] refusing to allow Soul Cap caps and the attached reasoning reflects nothing but ignorance and racism … Our call to the IOC is simple: This can’t be the intention of the rules, so it’s about time to change the rules.”
The letter also criticizes the international sports community beyond the ban on the Soul Cap, adding that the “stigmatization of Black women and their bodies is not a new phenomenon.”
It highlights the case of two 18-year-old cisgender sprinters from Namibia, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, who have been banned from the women’s 400-meter race due to their natural testosterone levels being too high for women’s sports.
“Mboma and Masilingi are only able to join the Olympics if they agree to take drugs to lower their natural testosterone levels,” the letter says.
“This is the world upside down,” adding that: “If the IOC does not take its responsibility to guarantee an inclusive and anti-racist sport, politicians should remind them. It is 2021, rules and legislation based on stereotypes must be changed. This is the only way to make sports, really, for everyone.”