Around the World in Women's Soccer is a series that explores women's soccer in other countries. Each country will get two stories: The first will explore the country's national team, while the second will explore the country's domestic league.
This is a time of incredible growth for women's soccer in Zambia. The national team recently qualified for their first major tournament and will be the only team representing Africa in next month's Tokyo Olympics. Zambia also started their first national-level league, the FAZ Women Super Division, earlier this year.
The new league features 14 teams from four of Zambia's ten provinces. Most of the players featured on the national team play in this league, although very few of them are professionals. The most recent numbers show ZESCO, a club that features two national team players, in the No. 1 spot through the first thirteen weeks. The Green Buffaloes, who have four national team players according to the most recent roster, are in the No. 5 spot, while the Red Arrows, with five national team players, are in the No. 7 spot.
The new league has not been without its challenges. One club, Nkana Queens, was suspended from the league in early May for violent conduct towards a referee.
Prior to the start of the regular season, some Zambian teams participated in the first edition of the Barbra Banda Foundation Annual Women's Challenge Cup. The tournament featured 16 games played across nine days. Ultimately, the Green Buffaloes defeated the Bauleni United Sports Academy 3-1 to take home the title. Five of the eight teams that competed were from the new top-tier league.
In addition to the top-tier league, there are six regional leagues, which feature nearly 100 teams. Women's soccer in Zambia dates back to the 1980s, where some scattered competitions were organized primarily in the Lusaka and Copperbelt regions. Clubs like ZESCO, the Indeni Roses, National Assembly Women, and the Green Buffaloes, who all compete in the national league, have won these competitions.
One of the main motivators for creating the new league is the creation of a CAF Women's Champions League, which will be the first club-level tournament for women's soccer in Africa. The inaugural tournament will be hosted in Morocco in November 202l (Morocco will also host the 2022 Africa Women Cup of Nations, which kicks off in January). Hopefully, the addition of competitions like this will encourage even more growth in Zambia and in women's soccer across Africa.
A good performance by the national team at the Olympics could also be a boost for the newly-minted domestic league in Zambia. According to team captain Barbra Banda, Zambia would love to make it out of the group stage and into the quarterfinals or even the semi-finals. But that will be an incredible challenge for the team ranked 104th in the world, especially when so many of their players aren't technically professionals.
While women's soccer has been around in Zambia for decades, this could be the moment where both the domestic league and the national team rise to a new level. As these players continue to push for league stability, professional contracts, and international success, they aren't just fighting for their own careers, but for the futures of all girls in Zambia who dream of playing soccer.