Zambian soccer star Barbra Banda ineligible due to high testosterone

Zambian soccer star Barbra Banda, a prolific goalscorer who scored two hat-tricks at the Olympics last summer, has been declared ineligible for the Africa Cup of Nations due to her high testosterone levels.

The Confederation of African Football, which organizes the Nations Cup, defers to FIFA eligibility rules, according to a BBC report on Wednesday. In that report, a CAF spokesman disputed the idea that the continental federation had banned Banda, saying “there is no such decision by the CAF medical committee”.

Banda burst onto the international scene by recording back-to-back hat-tricks against the Netherlands and China at the Tokyo Olympics. It was Zambia’s first appearance in women’s football at the World Cup or the Olympics, and Banda’s second hat-trick secured a 4-4 draw against China.

The International Olympic Committee and FIFA have different eligibility standards for gender verification, hence Banda’s appearance at the Olympics but not the Nations Cup.

FIFA’s gender verification policy, which dates back to May 2011, states that “androgen hormones have performance-enhancing effects” and therefore “gender verification is of particular importance”. The public document does not state a specific testosterone threshold.

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FIFA is in the process of updating its 2011 policy, according to a Reuters report last month. A FIFA spokesperson told Reuters the organization is “reviewing its gender eligibility rules in consultation with expert stakeholders”.

Andrew Kamanga, the president of the Zambian football federation, would be in Morocco during the Nations Cup and would work with CAF to find a solution. Banda is also training in Morocco, but a resolution is unlikely before the end of the tournament.

Without Banda, Zambia earned a scoreless draw against Cameroon on Sunday and beat Tunisia 1-0 on Wednesday in Casablanca. The Zambians top Group B with four points and can clinch a trip to the round of 16 with a draw or win against Togo on Saturday. Zambia are looking to clinch their first trip to the World Cup, with the top four teams qualifying automatically and two others going to the intercontinental qualifiers.

Banda plays for Chinese club Shanghai Shengli but has been linked with a possible move to Real Madrid.

Gender-related eligibility criteria have become a hot topic in international sports in recent years. Last summer, two Namibian sprinters were excluded from the women’s 400 meters at the Tokyo Olympics due to naturally high levels of testosterone. South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya, who won gold in the women’s 800 meters in 2012 and 2016, has faced eligibility questions over testosterone levels for more than a decade.

In addition to the IOC and FIFA, international swimming, cycling and athletics federations have in recent years announced new gender eligibility policies or plan to revise their policies.

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