Barbra Banda, an international star striker for Zambia, has been ruled out of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations after her testosterone levels were deemed to be above those allowed by the Confederation of African Football for the tournament, according to ESPN’s Ed Dove.
The Zambian Football Association (FAZ) says it is working to find a solution with CAF, which has regulations that are more strict than those for the Olympics. Banda, 22, broke out as an international star at the 2020 Olympics, scoring back-to-back hat tricks in games against the Netherlands and China in group play.
“Our FA president [Andrew Kamanga] is in Morocco and has been pursuing this matter with his colleagues in CAF,” FAZ communications director Sydney Mungala said, per ESPN.
“The Barbra case is just one example, but the broader picture is to strive to see how these regulations can be more responsible for the general situation—not just Zambia. Many players can be affected by these regulations, and football is their livelihood. I think the CAF regulations are a lot more stringent [than Olympic regulations], and they put too much stress on testosterone levels.”
Kamanga told BBC Sport Africa that all players were required to “undergo gender verification” as a CAF requirement, leading to the situation with Banda and three other players not being included on the nation’s final squad for WAFCON.
However, CAF communications director Lux September denies that the organization is responsible, saying “there is no such decision from the CAF medical committee.”
Kamanga responded, saying that “whatever happened was purely a CAF requirement.”
“Everybody at home [in Zambia] has been made to believe that Faz did nothing and decided on their own to exclude the player,” Kamanga said, per the BBC. “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.”
BBC says Banda was originally named to Zambia’s squad after “taking medication to help reduce her levels of testosterone” which are naturally above the threshold. Mungala tells ESPN that she and the other players affected were offered a course of hormone suppression treatment, but they declined.
“Our medics engaged the players, and they weren’t willing to go through with it—I think there are possible side effects,” Mungala said. “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 seemed to concede that, while FAZ is seeking to change the CAF regulations long term, Banda will probably not be cleared to participate in WAFCON this year.
“The efforts of FAZ now are more directed towards changing this regulation in the long term, but not necessarily for this competition. The opportunity [for 2022] has been lost now,” he said.
“Where we stand now, the best we can hope for is a long-term solution to the problems, especially because this is a player who has played at the U-17 World Cup in Costa Rica, played at the Olympics, played for her club in China, in Spain, and there’s even a possibility now for her to move to one of the Madrid clubs. Yet despite having played in all of these places, in all of these tournaments, she now can’t even play in her own continent, for her national team.”
The situation with Banda is similar to the one involving runner Caster Semenya, a three-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist from South Africa. Semenya, who has naturally higher testosterone levels, was barred from running in events ranging from 400 meters to the mile due to a rule implemented by the International Association of Athletics Federation in 2018. She remains in a legal battle with the IAAF to change those rules.
In May, Semenya discussed her experience with testosterone-suppressing drugs and her decision to stop using them with HBO’s Real Sports.
“It made me sick, made me gain weight, panic attacks, I don’t know if I was ever going to have a heart attack,” Semenya said, via GiveMeSport. “It’s like stabbing yourself with a knife every day. But I had no choice. I’m 18, I want to run, I want to make it to Olympics, that’s the only option for me.”
Zambia drew with Cameroon in its WAFCON opener, played without Banda on Sunday, giving it one point so far in Group B play. The team returns to play Wednesday against Tunisia.
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