Alice Dearing says she does not want young Black swimmers to be discouraged from competing in the sport following the decision to ban specialist swim caps designed to protect natural Black hair from being worn at the Olympics.
The 24-year-old is currently Great Britain’s only black elite swimmer and will become the first Black female swimmer to represent Britain at an Olympics after Team GB confirmed her place in the 10km open water marathon last week.
Headwear made by the brand Soul Cap, which Dearing had partnered with last year, has been banned from the upcoming Games by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) because the caps do not fit “the natural form of the head”, but the body is reviewing the use of products for natural Black hair.
Dearing is a co-founder of the Black Swimming Association, who have said the move will put off many young swimmers from ethnic minority backgrounds taking part in the sport, and the Loughborough University student wants a solution to be found following fierce backlash towards the decision.
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She told Sky Sports News: “The issue with this story is I don’t want little Black girls and little Black boys to look at elite swimming and think it is not open to them because that is completely the wrong idea.
“It is open to them, I really hope that with it being under review that some agreement will come about, I’m sure it will.
“But I don’t want people to look at elite level swimming and think: ‘It’s not open for me, I can’t wear my hair the way I want to and I’ll go and find another sport’, because that’s not what we want.
“Change is happening at least, Soul Cap has been made and even something as simple as that wasn’t around when I started out swimming.
“My mum used to have to relax my hair and then braid it to make sure it would fit into a cap and make our lives easier and it’s only when I’ve got older that I could find ways to manage it in its natural form.
“It’s brilliant to see so many people passionate about this and wanting to make sure that swimming is open and available to everyone because that is the goal. I’m really hoping to see that this story would have a happy ending and I’m pretty sure it will.
“The issue of Black people in swimming is a heavy topic so I’m happy to be the person to speak about it because I want to make people aware that these stereotypes aren’t acceptable and Black people should feel comfortable at swimming pools.
“They shouldn’t feel subjugated or discriminated against in any way, so if I can help in any way to make that better and leave the sport one day where I can look back on it and see the difference I’ve made then that’s what I want to do.”
In a statement, FINA has told Sky Sports News that it is committed to ensuring there are “no barriers to participation in swimming”, following criticism over its policies on the use of products for natural black hair.
The statement read: “FINA acknowledges the comments and reactions concerning the use of ‘Soul Cap’ swim caps in FINA competition.
“FINA is committed to ensuring that all aquatics athletes have access to appropriate swimwear for competition where this swimwear does not confer a competitive advantage.
“FINA is currently reviewing the situation with regards to ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products, understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation.
“There is no restriction on ‘Soul Cap’ swim caps for recreational and teaching purposes. FINA appreciates the efforts of ‘Soul Cap’ and other suppliers to ensure everyone has the chance to enjoy the water. FINA will also speak with the manufacturer of the ‘Soul Cap’ about utilising their products through the FINA Development Centres.
“FINA expects to make its consideration of ‘Soul Cap’ and similar products part of wider initiatives aimed at ensuring there are no barriers to participation in swimming, which is both a sport and a vital life skill.”
Dearing finished fourth of 47 in a qualifying event in Portugal to secure her Tokyo 2020 spot.
Kevin Burns, in 1976, was Britain’s first Black male Olympic swimmer. He was followed by Paul Marshall, who competed in the 1980 Games in Moscow, and Dearing will be only the third Black British swimmer of either sex to reach that level.
On securing her Olympics place, Dearing added: “I’m just so relieved, it’s been a crazy 18 months since the Olympics got postponed and I’m so excited for this opportunity.
“It’s coming so quickly considering I’ve just got back from training in Portugal and then to be going again in two weeks it’s just a quick pace but it’s good, it’s exciting.
“The reception has been unlike anything I’ve ever seen and everyone has been so kind and welcoming and excited to see me go and do this.”
The Tokyo Games will begin on July 23 and run until August 8 with the women’s marathon swim scheduled for August 4 at Odaiba Marine Park.
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