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Two years ago, Mandy Bujold took a break from boxing to start a family. Now, because of that pause and the COVID-19 pandemic, the 11 time National champion may not get her chance at the Tokyo Olympics

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Mandy Bujold, 33-year-old Canadian flyweight boxer, trains at SydFIT Health Centre in Kitchener, Ont.Nick Iwanyshyn/The Globe and Mail

At 33 years old, Mandy Bujold is one of the best and most experienced flyweight female boxers in the world. She’s fought in more international bouts, and collected more hardware, than most of the top women in her weight class.

But you may not get to see Ms. Bujold compete for Canada in the Tokyo Olympics, despite her training for this chance most of her adult life. That’s because a little more than two years ago, Ms. Bujold took a pause from her sport to start her family.

She gave birth to her daughter, Kate Olympia – or K.O. – and stepped back into the ring in 2019, planning a comeback in Tokyo. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, cancelling all qualifying events. That prompted the International Olympic Committee’s boxing task force to turn to three tournaments held in 2018 and 2019, precisely when Ms. Bujold was pregnant and postpartum and not boxing.

The IOC’s task force ruled Ms. Bujold, who’s won 11 Canadian championships, two Pan American Games titles, and was a medal favourite at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, did not have enough points to qualify for Tokyo.

Whether Ms. Bujold is allowed to compete in Tokyo will now be decided outside the boxing ring – by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Lausanne, Switzerland. That international body, established in 1984 to rule on sports-related legal disputes, will rule on whether Ms. Bujold’s human rights were violated.

With the opening ceremonies set to begin in a little less than two months, time is running out.

“It’s a hard pill for me to swallow,” said Ms. Bujold, who trains in Kitchener, Ont., under coach Syd Vanderpool. “I don’t think any athlete wants their fate to be in someone else’s hands. We train our bodies and our minds to be able to compete, and to have that opportunity taken away, that’s the most difficult part.”

The boxer says the rules that disqualified her are a holdover from an era when many Olympic-calibre athletes would quit their sport when they wanted to become a mother. Ms. Bujold argues the IOC doesn’t seem to think qualification periods should be flexible to accommodate women during their pregnancies.

“I don’t think athletes should have to wait for their career to be done to start a family,” she said. “I think this is just ancient thinking. We have to move into this century, and say ‘This is happening more and more, so how can we protect these athletes so they can take that time to have a child?’ ”

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Ms. Bujold, following the International Olympic Committee's decision, requested the IOC recognize her ranking from before she was pregnant, a request that was denied. She has since filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, arguing a human rights violation.Nick Iwanyshyn/The Globe and Mail

Support for Ms. Bujold has come from across the country. The Minister of Canadian Heritage, Steven Guilbeault, has urged IOC president Thomas Bach to overturn the decision to keep Ms. Bujold from competing in Tokyo.

“I urge you to reconsider the decision to exclude Mandy Bujold, in the name of fairness and on the basis of our mutually stated ambitions of gender equity, human rights and promoting women and girls participating in sport,” Mr. Guilbeault wrote in a recent letter.

Lennox Lewis, one of Canada’s greatest boxers, also slammed the IOC’s decision.

“I find it preposterous that the Olympics in effect has denied her the opportunity to once again represent Canada,” he said on Twitter. “It’s especially confounding, when I’ve heard that the Olympics have made exceptions for other women who have also made the same choices to start a family and still pursue Olympic dreams.”

Mr. Lewis, a three-time world-heavyweight champion and an Olympic gold medalist, said qualifying rules shouldn’t be so rigid “that a top prospect cannot be considered, or exempted, simply because she chose to start a family.”

“I really hope the Olympics committee reconsiders its position here. Women should not be penalized for doing things that women do or making choices that women make,” he said.

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Nick Iwanyshyn/The Globe and Mail

Ms. Bujold, meanwhile, admits the arbitration process is a distraction at a time when she would rather focus on training for an event that she had long planned to be the bookend of her remarkable boxing career.

“It can be hard to focus with this huge uncertainty hanging over you. There’s definitely moments where you’re like ‘What’s the point? Why am I doing this?’ ” she said.

After two previous chances to fight in the Olympics were compromised by bad luck and sudden illness, Ms. Bujold says all she really wants is the opportunity to compete on her sport’s biggest stage while she’s still at the top of her game.

In 2012, when women’s boxing made its Olympic debut, Ms. Bujold looked set to fight in the London Games, until boxing authorities changed the qualifying standards and Canada’s only wild-card spot was awarded to another boxer.

Four years later, as a medal threat at the Rio Olympics, she was hospitalized with an intestinal bug the night before her quarter-final match, and had to be wheeled to the ring hooked up to an intravenous feed. She’d lost five pounds of fluid, and couldn’t fend off China’s Ren Cancan, one of the best fighters in the world.

While she waits for an answer from the arbitration process, Ms. Bujold says this effort to modernize the IOC’s qualification rules, and push for fair treatment of female athletes, may be her most important fight yet.

“I really wanted to show my daughter that you can do both, be a mother and an athlete, and be good at both,” she said. “I think that’s the best example I can set for her.”

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Ms. Bujold, an 11-time National champion and two-time Pan American champion, was previously ranked eighth in the world and second in the Americas.Nick Iwanyshyn/The Globe and Mail

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