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Women's soccer sensation ruled ineligible for major competition due to 'gender verification' test results

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Photo by Pablo Morano/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Barbra Banda, the star striker on the Zambia women's national soccer team, has been disqualified from the upcoming Women's Africa Cup of Nations competition because of results from the "gender verification" tests all tournament participants are required to undergo.

Reports say that her results from pre-tournament "gender verification" testing, mandated by the African soccer confederation CAF, showed natural testosterone levels that exceeded the limits set by CAF in line with the regulations established by FIFA.

Andrew Karmanga, the president of the Football Association of Zambia, told BBC Sport Africa: "All the players had to undergo gender verification, a CAF requirement, and unfortunately [Banda] did not meet the criteria set by CAF."

Banda isn't the only member of FAZ whose test results rendered her ineligible to play. Three of her teammates also had similar tests results, though ultimately, they were not selected for the final 22-person roster anyway.

Banda, 22, first made international headlines at the Tokyo Olympics last year when she recorded hat tricks in back-to-back games, a feat that FIFA calls "an unprecedented achievement in women’s Olympic football history." It was the first time the Zambia women's soccer team had ever qualified for the Olympics, and they ultimately finished in ninth place.

According to Karmanga, the International Olympic Committee imposes "a less stringent standard" than CAF.

Thus far, CAF has not commented on Banda's ineligibility, and the organization's silence has frustrated Karmanga.

"Everybody at home [in Zambia] has been made to believe that FAZ did nothing and decided on their own to exclude the player," he said. "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 asserted.

An official CAF document does require team physicians 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," and FIFA guidelines established in 2011 make similar demands for gender verification.

For now, Banda still travels with the team. At first, some hoped that medications intended to suppress testosterone would help bring her testosterone levels back down below the threshold, but even though those didn't work, Banda remains with the team for moral support.

"She's the captain of the team and she's equally important for team-building and ensuring spirit in the team," Karmanga said.

The team claims in a Facebook post that it has set its sights on qualifying for the 2022 FIFA Women's World Cup and that it is "in the background seeking redress on the circumstances surrounding some of our players."

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