The toughest battle of Canadian Olympic boxer Mandy Bujold’s career may be actually happening outside the ring as the Kitchener, Ont. native attempts to fight the IOC to compete in the Tokyo Summer Games.
“It’s that last fight too. I want to go to Tokyo because I want that to be the final moment in my career, the end of this chapter in my life,” the 33-year-old explained.
“So I think it makes it even more important.”
Bujold, who has won gold at the Pan Am Games and medaled at the Commonwealth Games, competed for Canada at the Rio Olympics.
That event came to an end for her outside the ring, as she got sick before her quarterfinal bout, ending up in hospital on an I.V.
After the Games, the Olympian decided that it was time to start her family and made a plan with her husband, with an eye toward the 2020 Tokyo Games.
“I think when you’re a female athlete, that’s something you have to think about. You have to think about the four-year cycle. You have to think about, OK, well, ‘what events do I need to attend in order to qualify?’” she explained.
“And you have to kind of try to plan it as best as possible. So, yeah, that’s definitely what I did. I sat down with my husband and we looked at a schedule and said, OK, this makes the most sense. So let’s try to do it in this time frame.”
After having her daughter Kate in 2018, the next step would be to get back into training before she would have to attend national and international qualifying events which were to be held in 2020.
But before those events occurred, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, causing the Tokyo Olympics to be postponed. A qualifying tournament in Argentina was also postponed and eventually cancelled in April.
This left the IOC having to determine how athletes would qualify for this summer’s Olympics.
The body chose to use previous events from 2019 and 2018, which left Bujold sidelined, since those were the years in which she had her daughter and was preparing her body for the return to competition.
“We thought this was a mistake,” Bujold said. “This was something that they didn’t consider, an unintentional consequence of the criteria that they put in place.
“So we just assumed, hey, let’s just go the formal process, send them a letter, give them the opportunity to make a change in that criteria to include like a bigger span for female athletes.”
When they failed to receive a response to their initial letter, Bujold and her lawyer, Sylvie Rodrigue, then filed an appeal to the International Olympic Committee which they lost earlier this year.
They have since filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but there are now less than 70 days until the Opening Ceremony.
“That’s the hardest part is that we only have this small window at this point,” Bujold said.
“I’m trying to focus on my training. I’m trying to leave the fight up to Silvie outside of the ring, and I need to focus on what happens in the ring.”
Rodrigue says the battle is a human right’s issue rather than simply an issue of decency.
“The legal angle for Mandy is not a fairness issue, it’s a human rights violation, violation of the Olympic charter issue because of the pregnancy, which we think is different — it’s in a different category,” she explained.
Angela Schneider, an Associate Professor of Kenisiology at Western University also pointed to the fact that this was not the case of someone looking for a backdoor way into the Olympics.
“She’s not trying to bend the rules to get a special favour so that she can make an Olympic team,” the former Olympic rower told Global News.
“That’s clearly not what’s going on. If you look at her past record and if you look at how she planned the pregnancy to try and make it work within the rules that were existing at that time.”
Perhaps what is making the ruling even more disheartening is that the IOC has billed the Tokyo Games to be the gender-equal Olympic Games.
“They have not been the leaders worldwide on these issues and they have made some progress in some area,” Schneider said.
She said that the ruling shows that if they do not accommodate a case like this, they still have a long way to go.
“Full participation for women requires that you understand there’s a biological part of that, which is childbearing,” Schneider said.
Bujold’s case has gotten international attention of late, both publicly and privately from other athletes including tennis legend Billie Jean King.
“I started receiving messages from other athletes and people and just like how much support and interest there was in this, I realized, ‘wait a second, like this isn’t just about me,’” she said.
“This is about building the future for the next generation of athletes that do want to be a mom and be a high-performance athlete, because you can do both.”
The Tokyo Games will begin on July 23, which is coming fast but Bujold has not given up hope yet.
“We’re doing everything we can,” she explained.
“I think they think we’re probably just going to stop fighting at some point, but we’re lucky to have the support from the community and across Canada and now worldwide.”
*With file from the Canadian Press