Mandy Bujold is a 33-year-old mother and 11-time national Canadian boxing champion who competed in the 2016 Olympic Games. Because of COVID-19, an Olympic qualifying event that was scheduled for May in Argentina was cancelled, and the IOC Boxing Task Force then selected 3 events between 2018 and 2019 for female boxers to qualify for the Tokyo Games. Mandy Bujold was pregnant and postpartum during that qualifying period, and the International Olympic Committee has ruled that her ranking before 2017—before having her daughter—no longer counts toward her qualification to once again become a Canadian Olympian.
Bujold, whose daughter’s name is Kate Olympia—KO—is appealing this decision. She wants to lace up her gloves for her country. Equally, she wants women’s rights to be recognized by the IOC. “The best case scenario is they say, ‘Sorry, we made a mistake,’ and give me my spot,” says Bujold, who’s from Cobourg, Ontario, based in Kitchener, and is the only female boxer in history to win two titles at the Pan American Games. “Canada wants me in Tokyo. I’m one of our senior members of the team and I have a very good chance at a medal so while the IOC says things about making these the ‘gender-neutral’ games—at some point, they have to walk the walk.”
Walking the walk behind Bujold in solidarity are such sports luminaries as Billie Jean King, Lennox Lewis and even marathon runner Krista DuChene, who competed in the Olympic Games after having a daughter and knows how pregnancy affects female athletes.
“Like many women, she chose to have her daughter between Olympic cycles. All three of our children were planned around my marathon schedule,” says DuChene, who ran the marathon for Canada at the 2016 Rio Games. “It’s not too late for the IOC to make this right. It should be made right, not just for Mandy, but to avoid further future wrongs.”
Avoiding future wrongs is what Bujold says she’s trying to accomplish. As an athlete with more than 160 fights under her belt, she knows she can’t box forever. However, she also knows she has the chance to leave a legacy behind her that’s more than just a title or medal or endorsement. Mandy Bujold is fighting to change the world.
“I’m committed to fighting this ruling, not only for me, but as a precedent for other female athletes. That’s why I’m fighting it with everything I have,” says Bujold, who is training to this day as if she’s going to be allowed her opportunity to box next month in Tokyo. “My story’s important because it’s an opportunity for the IOC to address their policies—to fix them.”
Discrimination and unequal opportunity has a long history in athletics and while Bujold acknowledges there’s been progress, stories of Canadian women losing their funding during pregnancies or having childbirth classified as an “injury,” casts an ugly shadow on what we all love about sport. Bujold, whose case is in arbitration with no current date set for an IOC decision—even with the Games rapidly approaching and logistics already difficult to plan—says she’s in great shape, focused and hungry. All she wants is to be a mother, and have a fair chance to compete.
“When an employee takes time off work to have a child, you’re not penalized when you come back to the office and female athletes should be treated the same way,” Bujold says. “Right now the IOC is saying you have to decide whether you can be an athlete or a mom and I’m saying—no way. You can do both. I can do both. And I can do it well.”