TORONTO (AP) — Mandy Bujold would have preferred fighting this battle in the ring.
Instead, the Tokyo Olympics fate for Canada’s best boxer lies in the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sport after her qualifying tournament was scrapped due to the pandemic.
Bujold and her lawyer, Sylvie Rodrigue, lost their appeal to the International Olympic Committee earlier this week, leaving CAS as her last chance to box in what would be her final Olympics.
“I had been hopeful (about the IOC’s decision),” Bujold told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “But they did not even address the issues in our letter, which is really unfortunate, right? You think of the Olympics and the principles of Olympism, you think about fairness, you think about sportsmanship, you think about all these things that make the Olympics what they are, and make me proud to be an Olympian and to get this response was really tough.”
After a competitive year erased by COVID-19, the 11-time national flyweight champion had been confident she’d clinch a berth at the qualifying tournament this month in Buenos Aires. The event was recently canceled amid coronavirus cases in Argentina.
With no remaining international competitions for boxers from the Americas, athletes were selected on a revised ranking system using three events between 2018 and 2019 — events Bujold didn’t compete in because they conflicted with her maternity leave. Bujold’s daughter Kate was born on Nov. 5, 2018.
Rodrigue calls Bujold’s situation a human rights violation and discrimination case. In the Olympic Boxing Task Force’s revised ranking system for Tokyo, “it’s like Mandy has never been ranked in the world,” Rodrigue said.
“What we say is the fact that they do not accommodate pregnant or postpartum athletes by recognizing their rankings pre-pregnancy, they are violating the rights of the athletes from a gender equity and from a discrimination standpoint,” she said.
The 33-year-old Bujold had planned to retire after the Tokyo Games, and had already pushed back her departure for a year after the Olympics were postponed to 2021.
“I’ve been training for this opportunity, for this final moment to kind of close this chapter of my career, and now not even being able to have that opportunity, that’s really tough,” she said.
Both the Canadian Olympic Committee and Boxing Canada wrote letters in support of her appeal to the IOC, Bujold said.
The continental qualifiers were originally scheduled for last March, but were scrapped due to the pandemic. Adding to the frustration, the European qualifying event is still happening next month in Paris. Bujold said a European boxer with an identical story — she had a baby and took maternity leave around the same time — is just one fight from punching her ticket to Tokyo.
Whatever the CAS rules, there was never a doubt Bujold would pursue this battle to the end.
“I think about when I’m preparing for a fight in the ring, I make sure that I do everything possible to give myself the opportunity to win. And, that’s exactly what we’re doing right now, in a different type of fight,” she told CP.
Bujold, a two-time Pan American Games champion who was previously ranked No. 2 in the Americas, would be the first Canadian woman to box in back-to-back Olympics. Her Rio Olympics ended in heartbreak due to illness; hours before her quarterfinal bout she was in hospital on an I.V.
Her goal was to close her career with a medal in Tokyo.
Now with everything in doubt, it’s not easy some days to go to the gym.
“At the end of the day, I’m trusting Sylvie, I’m trusting her team to fight for me,” she said. “So, I need to be prepared and do my part by staying ready, and staying in shape. So until there’s a final conclusion, at the end of all of this, I need to just stay ready.”