Zambia forward Barbra Banda is eligible to play at next year’s Women’s World Cup, says a leading Fifa women’s football official.
The 22-year-old was excluded from this year’s Women’s Africa Cup of Nations by the Zambia FA (Faz) after the latter body said she failed a gender eligibility test.
“We are looking forward to welcoming her to Australia and New Zealand next year to participate,” Sarai Bareman, Fifa’s chief women’s football officer, told BBC Sport Africa.
Faz has previously said it excluded its best player from the finals given its understanding of a medical form the Confederation of African Football (Caf) adopted from Fifa.
However, these rules – which prompted Faz, rather than Caf, to exclude Banda from the Wafcon – are now being revised.
“Fifa is currently reviewing our gender eligibility regulations – we’re in a consultation process right now,” Bareman explained.
“My team is obviously a big part of that consultation process and in the coming months, you’ll see a new set of regulations come out of Fifa as many sports are also looking at their own regulations.”
Banda shot to global prominence at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo when she became the first female player to score consecutive hat-tricks in the Games’ long history.
After sitting out Wafcon, she returned to the national team in September and helped Zambia win a regional southern African title for the first time, emerging as both the top scorer and best player of the tournament.
Football’s world governing body estimates the new guidelines for gender eligibility will be released before the 2023 Women’s World Cup but it remains non-committal on whether gender testing will be a mainstay of the women’s game going forward.
“It’s a very complex topic and there are many, many people who have their views on it,” Bareman explained.
“As Fifa, our role is to take all those views into consideration, because we really have to understand every view – the research, evidence, individual situations, the human rights side of things – and we have to factor all of that in before we can take any decisions.
“It’s a big decision, and it’s going to have a big impact for many people.”
During July’s Wafcon in Morocco, Faz said three other potential squad members were also affected by gender eligibility criteria and were thus not chosen to compete at the tournament.
World Cup expansion to ‘drive other countries’
Alongside Morocco, Zambia is one of five countries which will make their Women’s World Cup debut in the 2023 tournament, which is being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
After expanding next year’s finals from 24 to 32 teams, Fifa’s Bareman believes the tournament’s growth will boost the development of women’s football in Africa.
“It’s only positive from here,” Bareman rallied.
“Look at Zambia – when a country like that qualifies for the first time ever, the flow-on effect for the game in the country is massive. They did so well at the Olympics as well – other countries see that and you can’t underestimate the competitive value in Africa.
“The expansion has really helped and will continue to drive other countries.”
Led by champions South Africa alongside perennial qualifiers Nigeria, debutants Zambia and Morocco make up Africa’s four representatives at the finals.
Senegal and Cameroon have a chance to make it six teams for the continent when they compete in next year’s inter-continental play-off to determine the last three teams to qualify for the June-August finals.