We had to create a special category this year to recognise the contribution of the remarkable and indefatigable Veronika Muehlhofer (Switzerland).
Veronika Muehlhofer – the former national Swiss XVs coach – was instrumental in the formation of Switzerland national team eight years ago and, according to World Rugby, “has done more than most to ensure that the sport thrives in the European country”. Now CEO of the Swiss Rugby Union – and occasional Scrumqueens columnist – Veronika was appointed by Rugby Europe’s to the World Rugby Council in May 2018.
It is a remarkable CV, but it is not for that alone that we recognise Veronika this year, but for her efforts in rescuing and recreating the European Trophy tournament.
The European Trophy is the “second division” of women’s test rugby in Europe but it is a level where the cost of simply travelling to fixtures is a major barrier to participation. Rugby Europe attempted to minimise costs by organising the tournament over four days in a single location, but even that proved a barrier and when in July Sweden followed Czechia by withdrawing from the 2018 tournament – due to take place in October – Rugby Europe pulled the plug on the tournament for the second year running.
And so it would have ended but for Veronika, who was unwilling to accept that Europe’s second tier would again face a year without any competitive XVs.
With the backing of her Union in barely more than two months she almost single-handedly created a replacement competition, persuading Switzerland, Finland and Czechia to each host one game in a new three-team round-robin event before turning to Rugby Europe to get official backing for the competition, which she achieved in time for the first match in October.
Her unwillingness to accept Rugby Europe’s decision, and willingness to develop her own alternative is, we feel, an example to everyone frustrated by an authority's lack of imagination.
It is also interesting to note that the format Veronika developed for the European Trophy now looks like being copied by Rugby Europe for the top tier European Championship in 2019.
After showing what she can do in Europe, we wait with baited breath to see what impact Veronika can now achieve on a world level.
But for now Veronika Muehlhofer fully deserves wider recognition for her remarkable work behind the scenes in 2018 and is both our Unsung Hero and Administrator of the Year.