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Zambian soccer star Barbra Banda ineligible because of high testosterone

Zambia's Babra Banda (11) scored a hat trick against China during the Olympics last summer but isn't eligible to play in the Africa Cup of Nations. (Andre Penner/AP)

Zambian women’s soccer star Barbra Banda, a prolific scorer who netted two hat tricks at last summer’s Olympics, was ruled ineligible for the Africa Cup of Nations because of high testosterone levels.

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

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

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

FIFA’s gender verification policy, which dates from 2011, dictates that “androgenic hormones have performance-enhancing effects” and thus “gender verification is of particular importance.” The public document does not indicate a specific testosterone threshold.

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

Andrew Kamanga, the president of Zambia’s soccer federation, is reportedly in Morocco during the Cup of Nations and working with CAF to find a solution. Banda also is training in Morocco, but a resolution is unlikely before the end of the tournament.

Without Banda, Zambia managed a scoreless draw Sunday against Cameroon and beat Tunisia, 1-0, on Wednesday. The Zambians lead Group B with four points and can clinch a trip to the knockout stage with a draw or win Saturday against Togo. Zambia is seeking to clinch its first trip to the World Cup, with the top four teams automatically advancing and two more going to intercontinental playoffs.

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

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

In addition to the IOC and FIFA, the international federations of swimming, cycling, and track and field have in recent years announced new gender eligibility policies or plans to revisit their policies.