Home » Zambia’s Barbra Banda: ‘I was a pro boxer. I had no option but to go one way’
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Zambia’s Barbra Banda: ‘I was a pro boxer. I had no option but to go one way’

When Barbra Banda scored successive hat-tricks at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, in Zambia’s 10-3 defeat against the Netherlands and a dramatic 4-4 draw with China, she laid down her marker as a world-class striker. But the 23-year-old, who last weekend became the first player to captain her country at a senior World Cup, could have taken a different career path.

After a very successful 60-plus fights as an amateurboxer, Banda turned professional – having five bouts, of which she won four by knockout and one by a points decision. She was combining boxing with playing football and the offer of a professional contract from the Spanish club EDF Logroño in the 2018-19 season, compelled Banda to hang up her competitive gloves.

“I first went to a gym in Mutendere [in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital],” she says. “I was coming from church, with Mum [at the age of 11] and I saw some people there, in training, as we were passing by. I asked her if she could talk to the coaches, as to whether I could join them, even though I was a bit scared.

“My mum was not in support of it, as she wanted me to concentrate on school. But I really pushed her to talk to the coaches … Before I started boxing, it took me two weeks to learn the drills. I am a fast learner.

“I tried to combine both sports and I had to be in school as well. But I ended my professional boxing career when I got my first professional football contract in Spain. I had no other option but to go one way.”

Spanish football provided Banda with a valuable education and she scored 16 goals in 28 games for Logroño. The transition to the professional Spanish game was transformative. “It is very strong and competitive,” she says. “It helped me a lot.”

It earned Banda a lucrative move to Shanghai Shengli, her Chinese club, in January 2020 – her $300,000 transfer fee reportedly making her the third most expensive female player of all time. She scored 18 goals in her opening season, including three hat-tricks.

After her superlative form at the Tokyo Olympics, Banda was expected to captain the Copper Queens at last July’s Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) finals in Morocco. Her leadership and explosive power were regarded as crucial to Zambia having a credible campaign against more established teams such as Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa.

But in a shock for Banda, she did not meet gender DSD (differences in sex development) rules, set by the Confederation of African Football (Caf), before the tournament. Banda was, according to its rules, ineligible because her testosterone levels were said to be above Caf’s permitted limit. She was one of four players omitted from Zambia’s Wafcon squad after they refused to undergo hormone suppression treatment.

The Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) took Banda to the tournament but she could only sit in the stands, registered as an official. Getting Banda to talk about the harrowing experience, which the FAZ president, Andrew Kamanga, said was mentally traumatic for her, is akin to squeezing water out of a stone.

“I’d rather that you ask me questions about what good things I do in my country, including my charity work with young girls and boys,” she says. “That Wafcon is in the past. Whatever happened happened. I’m here [at the World Cup] with Fifa’s support.”

Kamanga is more forthcoming and believes Banda was treated appallingly by Caf. “The rules for the Caf competition and the rules for the Fifa competition were different … In the end, we appealed against the Caf regulations … We hope that Caf will harmonise their regulations with Fifa’s, so that there will not be a repeat of this very sad and unfair experience.”

Zambia’s opening World Cup game against Japan ended in a 5-0 thrashing for the debutants, making their match against Spain on Wednesday in Auckland a tournament-defining moment.

Japan’s coach, Futoshi Ikeda, said cutting off the midfield supply to Banda, whom he described as an “explosive player”, was a critical part of his strategy, and she lacked the service to threaten the2011 world champions’ defence.

Banda knows the Copper Queens will have to show far more tactical discipline and invention if they are to have a chance of advancing to the knockout stages.

“Saturday was a bad day for us. But looking at Japan, we were playing the best team in the world … We are not underrating any team but we just have to put our heads up and look forward to the next game we have. In football, you have three things – you draw, win or lose.” Banda says with a laugh: “Not all days are Sundays. We have to be serious and improve.”

She regards the World Cup as the ideal platform to establish the global reputation she wants to create for herself. “I want people to know that Barbra Banda is playing when I am on the field. I want to create my own name and leave my mark.”

Source: The Guardian