Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold wins appeal to compete at Tokyo Olympics

Canadian Mandy Bujold holds up her gold medal after defeating Marlen Esparza of the United States in the women's 48-51kg flyweight gold medal boxing final during the Pan American Games in Oshawa, Ont., on Saturday, July 25, 2015. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO -- Canada's Mandy Bujold looks forward to the day that she can tell her daughter that she got into the ring with Olympic sport's highest court -- and won.

The 11-time national flyweight champion has won her appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to box in the Tokyo Olympics. The CAS ruled Wednesday that the International Olympic Committee's Boxing Task Force must include an accommodation for women who were pregnant or postpartum during the qualifying period.

"Years down the road, I'm going to have a conversation with my daughter about this stage in my boxing career, I'm now going to be able to tell her that I took time off to become a mom and came back a stronger, better woman and proved that you can have a family and be an Olympian," Bujold said. "This decision has impacted not only my future, but also the future generation of young girls."

Bujold appealed to the CAS after her qualifying tournament in Argentina was scrapped due to COVID-19.

"We did it!" she said in announcing the news on Twitter.

The 33-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., and her lawyer Sylvie Rodrigue, lost their original appeal to the IOC in May, leaving the CAS her last chance to box in what would be her final Olympics. Bujold argued discrimination based on sex, as she'd taken time off for pregnancy, missing the events that the IOC Boxing Task Force would later arbitrarily choose for rankings after COVID-19 wiped out the Americas qualifying event.

With the CAS decision expected at 6 a.m. Wednesday, Bujold got up at 5:50 and called Rodrigue so they could wait for the news together. Bujold had barely slept.

"I definitely was checking my phone a lot," she said.

Bujold had carefully timed her pregnancy to be back in top form for Tokyo, giving birth to daughter Kate Olympia -- "K.O." -- on Nov. 5, 2018. The trouble arose when COVID-19 erased the 2020 season, and then forced the cancellation of the Americas qualifier in Buenos Aires.

Athletes were then selected on a revised ranking system that used three events between 2018 and 2019 -- events she missed because they conflicted with her maternity leave.

Bujold called this fight the toughest of her career. The emotions were similar to how she feels before she steps into the ring.

"It is a great ending," Bujold said. "We fought hard for it, we did everything within our control, we literally left it on the ring, it's probably the easiest way to say it."

The news came on a momentous day for Canadian female athletes. Earlier Wednesday, the IOC announced that breastfeeding athletes can have their babies with them in Tokyo, a move that comes a week after Canadian basketball player Kim Gaucher made an emotional plea to bring three-month-old daughter Sophie to the Games.

Hayley Wickenheiser, a four-time Olympic hockey gold medallist and member of the IOC athletes commission, tweeted about Bujold's victory: "Another win for the good ones/pregnant ones/breastfeeding ones, in such an archaic, old boys system. Some of the bravest voices to stand for 'what is right' in Olympic sport and to the IOC are Canadian."

Bujold has continued training through the past few weeks of uncertainty, but admitted there were days it was tough to get into the ring.

"I'm only human. There were definitely a lot of ups and downs. There were moments where, as we got closer to the actual case, that those days were very long and I knew that there was like a lot riding on that," she said. "I'd walk into the gym and sit down in the office with my coach (Syd Vanderpool) and just kind of tell him what was going on, and then he would say 'OK, so this is what we're working on today,' just to distract me.

"Some days where I felt stressed, I felt maybe my shoulders were tense when I was carrying that stress into the gym, we just adjusted and made training fun ... but it was out of our hands, we did everything we needed to do to prepare and I was confident either way that we had done everything within our control."

The Canadian Olympic Committee and Boxing Canada had appealed to the IOC on Bujold's behalf.

"We understand that the qualification systems have been extremely complicated and some decisions resulted in unintended consequences," the COC said in a statement. "We agree with the decision to grant this appeal recognizing these consequences and the need for accommodation in cases where discrimination has resulted."

Boxing Canada applauded Bujold on "this historic decision, and in her fight for gender equity," it said in a statement.

"What an incredible and rightful decision, not only for Mandy and her legal team, but also for all the other female athletes who will benefit over time from this decision," said Boxing Canada executive director Roy Halpin.

Bujold's legal challenge, Rodrigue said, was a human rights case. The law states that penalizing a woman because of pregnancy or a postpartum period is discrimination.

"We recognize that the pandemic may have required making changes to the qualification criteria for boxers in the Americas, the only continent where the qualifying event was cancelled," she said. "But discrimination of any kind, including based on sex, remains illegal -- pandemic or not.

"Mandy did not choose not to go to a qualifying event ... Mandy planned her pregnancy according to the Olympic cycle, specifically so she would be ready to compete at these Olympic qualifiers. Pregnancy is not an injury. It's not an illness. The violation of a protected human right elevated Mandy's situation to a completely different level, one that warranted the intervention of the court."

It's still unknown how Bujold will be added to the Tokyo tournament and what her seeding will be.

"Right now Mandy is continuing her training and we are in a waiting mode in a way," Rodrigue said.

The full Canadian team will be announced Monday.

"Mandy will be on that list. So from our perspective, the next step is Tokyo," Rodrigue said.

Bujold's case drew support from numerous high profile people, including former tennis star Billie Jean King and former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.

Bujold is a two-time Pan American Games gold medallist. Illness derailed her quest for a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The night before her quarter-final bout she was in hospital receiving an IV. She lost that fight.

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.