'I won the war': Despite defeat in Tokyo, Bujold's Olympic journey a victory for women in sport

Kitchener's Mandy Bujold is coming home earlier than she wanted from the Tokyo Olympics after an extended fight to get there.

The boxer lost in her first-round flyweight match on Saturday, closing the final chapter in her Olympic career.

But the defeat isn't being chalked up as a total knockout, with Bujold saying she won a major battle to progress equity for women in sport by even competing.

"Obviously I'm a little bit tired, I'm a little bit disappointed," Bujold said.

A post to her Twitter page after the bout noted her Olympic berth was about more than just a medal, but about gender equity in sport.

"At the end of the day, this one fight, not very many people are going to remember it. People are going to remember that yes, I went to the Olympics, that I won the bigger fight, that I won the war to get here," Bujold said.

Bujold won an arbitration decision against the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after the IOC ruled her ineligible for the games because her maternity leave didn't line up with the qualification window.

For those who focus on women in sport, Bujold's victory outside the ring was a big moment.

"She did something really important I think for all women, and I think so many women in communities across Canada as well as on the international stage are really going through a lot of hardship because they know it's not just about them, it's about changing the game for every woman and girl," said Allison Sandmeyer-Grave, chief executive of Canadian Women and Sport.

A recent report from the Canadian Women and Sport advocacy group shows the pandemic has seen more than 90 per cent of young girls participate less in sports, with one in four not committed to returning to athletics.

"Girls who don't feel confident in their bodies because they've lost their fitness, they're not sure if their skills are in the same place, we know that's a major barrier for girls in sport in a good year," Sandmeyer-Graves said. "Now they've been without sport for almost a year and a half, they might be really reluctant, in fact, they're telling us they are, to go back to those spaces where their bodies are on display and they're expected to perform."

She says with one in three girls dropping out of sports compared to one in 10 boys, more work needs to be done, but progress is coming.

"The last five years I would say have been absolutely unprecedented in the shifts in readiness to engage with this and willingness to move beyond platitudes, beyond saying, we're committed,' but really to action," Sandmeyer-Graves said.

For Bujold, she's proud to be part of progressing the conversation despite her defeat at the Olympics this weekend.

"I like to think that now these things are coming forward, we're having important conversations, you know? We're now feeling more comfortable to be able to say, 'hey, this is important to me, this is something that makes me feel uncomfortable,’ or this is something that I want to see changed," she said.