Boxer unable to qualify for Olympics after pregnancy, maternity leave

Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold at the 2016 Rio Olympics
Getty Images

After giving birth to her daughter in 2018, Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold didn’t have any reason to rush her return to the ring.

The 2016 Olympian ended up taking over a year away, returning to international competition in fall 2019 with the goal of competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

In order to earn her ticket to a second Olympics, Bujold – a two-time Pan American Games champion – needed to win the Canadian qualifier and finish in the top four of the Pan American qualifier or – if necessary – the top six of a last-chance Olympic qualifier.

Bujold won the Canadian qualifier in December 2019, but the rest of the qualification timeline was put on hold when COVID-19 resulted in the Olympics being postponed by one year.

Still, Bujold continued training.

Heading into 2021, both the Pan American and last-chance qualifying tournaments were rescheduled.

But in February, the IOC boxing task force announced it was cancelling the last-chance qualifier, which was scheduled for June. (Because AIBA – the federation that oversees boxing – is suspended, the International Olympic Committee is the sport’s current governing body.)

And earlier this month, the IOC made the decision to cancel the Pan American qualifier. With both tournaments nixed, the IOC said Olympic qualification for athletes in Bujold’s position would instead be determined by rankings from three events in 2018 and 2019.

But because Bujold was pregnant and then on maternity leave during that time, she doesn’t currently factor into the rankings.

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Bujold – who finished fifth at the 2016 Rio Olympics – hasn’t yet lost hope. The 33-year-old says she would like the IOC to consider her circumstances when allocating the remaining Olympic spots. Earlier this week, she wrote on Instagram:

A letter has been sent to the Executive Board of the IOC and we are hopeful that they will make the right decision pursuant to the principles of gender equity embodied in the Olympic Charter not only for me, but for all female athletes who decide to take a brief break from competition to have a child.

Earlier today, Bujold posted an update, writing, in part:

We are disappointed and quite frankly surprised that neither the IOC or the Boxing Task Force have yet responded to the letter my lawyer sent on April 23rd, despite a reminder sent yesterday. We know however that it was received and that they are aware of the issue.

They have not reached out yet to indicate if they are planning to rectify the qualifying rules to accommodate female athletes who were pregnant or postpartum during the chosen qualifying period for Tokyo.

Should we not hear anything at all by Monday, we will have no choice but to pursue a discrimination legal challenge before the Court of Arbitration for Sport. We are also exploring other legal avenues.

While Bujold’s situation is complicated by COVID-19, it is reminiscent of the position that tennis player Serena Williams found herself in several years ago. Williams was the top-ranked player in the world when she took time away to give birth in 2017, but returned a year later ranked in the low 400s.

Facing criticism over Williams’ situation, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ultimately decided to update its maternity leave policies. The WTA now allows players who are returning from maternity leave to use their previous ranking to enter 12 tournaments over a three-year period following their return.

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