Zambian Soccer Sensation Banned from Play for Gender Verification

America is not alone in the controversy over gender and women’s sports. Barbra Banda, the star striker on the Zambia women’s national soccer team, was disqualified from competing in the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations competitions. This move was made because of the results of a “gender verification” test that all tournament participants are required to have.

Some reports indicate her pre-tournament test, which was mandated by the African soccer confederation CAF, showed natural testosterone levels that exceeded the limits set by CAF. This was in line with the regulations established by FIFA.

The president of the Football Associate of Zambia, Andrew Karmanga, told the press that all players had to engage in gender verification because it was a CAF requirement. Banda did not meet the criteria set by CAF.

The bad news for Zambia is that Banda was not alone on her FAZ team. Three of her teammates also had similar test results.

Banda is only 22 years old, but she got the global spotlight at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She had hat tricks in back-to-back games. FIFA said that it was an “unprecedented achievement in women’s Olympic football history.” And this was the first time that a team from Zambia had ever qualified for the Olympics. They finished in 9th place.

Andrew Karmanga said that the International Olympic Committee imposes “a less stringent standard” than CAF. And he is frustrated that CAF has not made any comments on Banda’s ineligibility.

“Everybody at home [in Zambia] has been made to believe that FAZ did nothing and decided on their own to exclude the player. We the federations are compelled to undertake the tests, and then we pass on the information to CAF, and CAF, equally, test the players, if needs be, in the tournament. So it will be unfair to turn around and say CAF is not part and parcel of whatever has transpired,” he said.

According to an official CAF document, team physicians are required to attest in writing that all players do not show “any perceived deviation in secondary sex characteristics and are therefore presumed to be of female gender.” There are similar requirements in FIFA guidelines that were written in 2011.

Sydney Mungala, the FAZ’s communications director, said the Zambian federation was made aware that Banda’s testosterone levels were outside CAF’s guidelines, and that a course of hormone suppression was offered to Banda and the other Zambian players.

“Our medics engaged the players and they weren’t willing to go through with it — I think there are possible side effects. With the players not going down that route and taking up that option, the final decision was that they could not be included in the final list for the competition,” Mungala said.

Karmangan said that she is the team’s captain and it is important to bring team building and spirit to the team.

In a recent Facebook post, the team says that it is looking to qualify for the 2022 FIFA Women’s World Cup and they are seeking to redress circumstances surrounding some of the players.

Banda recorded a total of 18 goals in her first season with the Chinese club Shanghai Shengli. She had three hat tricks with the team. She joined Shengli following a successful year with Spain’s EDF Logroño, in which she scored 16 goals in 28 matches.

Banda is rumored to be “on the way” to Real Madrid, but the rules on gender identity will likely follow her wherever she might land.

This issue is not going away. We may be adding a completely different level for competition, men, women, and gender fluid.