Someone, or a group of people somewhere, are piercing our Zambian hearts with a hot iron and are spoiling our enjoyment of the beautiful African women football game: by their actions or inaction, they have connived to deprive us of our talented, skilled and brilliant Zambian women football players at the ongoing Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) in Morocco. There are absolutely no reasons why our solid Copper Queens Captain Barbara Banda, Rachel Kundanaji and Rachel Nachula have been left out of the Zambia WAFCON team! A great injustice has been committed against these three superb players. Zambia and the football loving world have been deprived of the pleasure of enjoying the great display of young Zambian women football talent and skills on the pitch by these players, in Morocco. Their human rights, gender identities, and right to privacy have been violated. We must demand justice from FAZ, CAF and FIFA. Zambia has been robbed of the necessary firepower which would have improved our chances of winning the WAFCON, and advancing to the 2023 FIFA Women World Cup!

The Copper Queens at the WAFCON in Morocco confirm that even with the injustice of the exclusion from the team of our three brilliant players, burdened by the sadness of this injustice, and perhaps because of this injustice too, we Zambians are hungry for success, are intelligent, talented, skilled and with a little disciplined leadership, organisation, passion and minimum essential resources, we can compete at any level against any country in the world.

Nimble footed, agile, fast and extremely talented current Copper Queens captain Grace Chanda has already proved able to marshal the team to victory, should we not suffer any more injustices. She is as inspirational as any captain, and is goal hungry. I know all the Zambian players in Morocco will do us proud, as they enter the last two phases of the tournament. To each one of them, and their management team and coaches, we are grateful for their beautiful display of superior Zambian African football and the joy their victories on the football pitch give our weary hearts.

All efforts by FAZ and the management and coaching staff of the Copper Queens must, obviously, at this moment be focused on ensuring that the Copper Queens bring the WAFCON Cup to Zambia. There is a lot at stake in the WAFCON competition in Morocco: it is also a qualifier to the 2023 FIFA Women World Cup. The top four teams will qualify for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and two more teams will advance to the inter-confederation play offs.

Zambia needed to have its full complement of its top national women football players, to improve its chances of qualifying for the 2023 FIFA Women World Cup. By excluding the three players from the Morocco WAFCON, these players have been denied their right to play the game they know, love and identify with, and to contribute to Zambia’s chances of being at the FIFA Women World Cup next year.

But we cannot ignore the injustice done to the three players. Who is responsible for the mortal injustice done to Copper Queens Captain Barbara Banda, Rachel Kundanaji and Rachel Nachula by excluding them from the Zambia women national soccer team currently in Morocco? This is not a small matter and we need answers to our questions from FAZ, CAF and FIFA. We must demand justice and the restoration of the full human rights of our players. We demand that the discrimination they are suffering be stopped, now.

FAZ is a member of CAF which is an affiliate of FIFA. On their website, FIFA have published their “Regulations for Gender Verification”, adopted by the FIFA Executive Committee on 30th May 2011. The regulations come into force on 1 June 2011. Because of the insensitivity to human rights violations, invasion of privacy and imbedded discrimination on the basis of gender and sex variations contained in the regulations, FIFA has been criticised for these regulations and at some point actually promised to remove them from their website. Further, FIFA’s regulations, perhaps typical of the culture of football, underplays gender identities and sex variations and simply treats the matter of verification as a disciplinary issue.

FIFA has since June this year confirmed it is reviewing its gender eligibility regulations as world sports governing bodies seek to establish policies that will make their competitions “fair and inclusive” across the board. In its own words, FIFA is consulting with expert stakeholders and seeking advice from medical, legal, scientific, performance and human rights experts. FIFA is also using the November 2021 International Olympic Committee (IOC)“Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations”. FIFA has committed itself, if asked to verify the eligibility of a player before the new regulations will be in place, to do so on a case by-case basis, taking into account FIFA’s clear commitment to respect for human rights.

The FIFA regulations for gender verification from where CAF cuts and pastes its Gender Verification Form do not list Confederations as eligible to request gender verification. The player concerned, an association, the appointed Medical Officer and the Chief Medical Officer are listed as entitled to request a gender verification procedure. The reason is very simple: the procedure is requested when there is a protest against an individual player’s eligibility to participate in a competition, not as a matter of routine! CAF has one form for the Medical Officer of an entire team to fill in, to certify that all the players have been tested! This is gross mass violation of the human rights and right to privacy of the entire team members! The CAF procedure of invasive mass gender verification of an entire team is completely inhuman, a gross violation of FIFA regulations and thoroughly uncalled for.

There has to be a protest against an individual player, and reasons and evidence advanced for the protest before any decisions can be made to conduct gender verification of a player. The reason is simple: mere physical appearance, sexual variations and self-gender identity are globally condemned as reasons for exclusion and discrimination in sport. Gender and sexual variations are no longer the basis for discrimination in any sport: there must be demonstrable performance and other disproportionate advantages to exclude an athlete or player from any sport, especially elite sport. The procedures to confirm all these are laborious, extensive, complex and involve multidisciplinary expert teams. CAF, it appears is making inhuman short cuts. Why?

I am confident the current president of CAF, Patrice Motsepe has no, or little knowledge, of this scandal – he is well aware of the struggles South Africa has fought to fight discrimination in sport on the basis of race, gender, physical appearance and sex variation.

I am confident Copper Queens Captain Barbara Banda, Rachel Kundanaji and Rachel Nachula will play in the FIFA Women World Cup, next year. Meantime, can FAZ give us the full details of what exactly has happened? Why have they taken so long to lodge a complaint against the compulsory mass gender verification requirement from CAF, when verification is an extremely private, intrusive and rare procedure done only when there is a legitimate protest against the eligibility of a player? What procedures have all the Copper Queens suffered? What measures has FAZ put in place to contribute to improving the human rights quality of FAZ, CAF and FIFA gender verification procedures? Should CAF refuse to lift the exclusion FAZ has aided in imposing on our players, what is FAZ going to do? How is FAZ going to protest and secure justice about these exclusions after the WAFCON?

Fundamentally and more importantly, what is FAZ going to do to help our excluded players recover from the long term trauma, gross human rights abuse, violation of privacy, exposure to bullying and harassment and the long term psychological trauma of diminishing the sense of identity and self-worthy of the affected players?

I am extremely proud of the Copper Queens: they have refused to be degraded as a football giant in the world even without their priceless comrades, and Captain. Thus far, they have performed brilliantly in all their three games, crowning their qualifications for the quarter finals with a convincing 4 – 0 thumping of Togo. At this rate, the WAFCON Cup may well already be on its way to Zambia!

Each one of those young Zambian women footballers out in Morocco, and our Copper Queens Captain Barbara Banda, Rachel Kundanaji and Rachel Nachula are our national treasure, our pride; whatever the results of the remainder of the tournament!

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