On the occasion of International Women’s Day, this Wednesday 8 March, EPCR would like to pay tribute to all the women who participate in the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup, such as Mária Gyolcsos, Governance and Regulation Officer at EPCR.

MPU – In article – English


Can you introduce yourself? 

My name is Mária Gyolcsos. I am an experienced sports professional, a former elite and international rugby player.

I won the national championship in Hungary nine times and the Taça de Portugal with Sport Club Porto (former Boavista); I was player of the year three times, I played for my national team for 15 years and was awarded the Great Award for my service to the sport in Hungary. I played for Richmond in the P15s and many elite 7s tournaments with the Ramblin’ Jesters.

How and when did you start playing rugby?

I started playing rugby as a teenager, besides my track and field training. I was looking for something more exciting! First, I stayed in the team because of the friendships and camaraderie.

Still, when Rugby 7s became an Olympic sport in 2012 and governments started to invest in rugby in Hungary (and many countries in Central Europe and across the globe), my sports career took off. As a national team player, I was included in a training program. We started to compete in the domestic championship with my club team (Fehérvár Rugby Club) and with the national team at the Central European Championship and the European Championship organised by Rugby Europe. Our goal was to improve individually and as a team, which we achieved and climbed on the international ranking every year.

I must mention that I did it besides studying and later working full-time. I was never paid to play, which is the reality for women in rugby, still today, except for a few players.

Growing up, how much has rugby been part of your life?

I come from a rugby family, and I learned a lot from my father, Ferenc Gyolcsos, one of the rugby pioneers in Hungary, a former board member of the Federation and an exceptional coach. He taught the basics of rugby to me, on and off the field!

What has rugby given you and taught you?

In one sentence, goal-oriented resilience, decision-making, thinking on my feet, leadership by actions and lifting others around me. All these lessons contributed to who I am today as a person and a professional.

Reflecting on what rugby has given me, my desire to play on a higher level (first in Portugal, then in England) has changed my career path. I switched from teaching and academia (in Hungarian) and started a career in the sports business, as I had the knowledge I could leverage abroad. It also was more suitable for my playing career.

Who were your role models as a player?

I always looked up to players from England – they were not called Red Roses then – Sue Day as a former captain, Nolli Waterman and Maggie Alphonsi, and many others who were remarkable on the field. Their leadership and impact were just extraordinary! They all have careers off the field, leading rugby in various positions. So that’s another reason why I still look up to them.

What is your best memory of your playing career?

This is a question that journalists quite often ask retired athletes, and I know that every time one can give a different answer. I am no exception! I will always remember my last match for Richmond against the Harlequins at The Stoop in front of a big crowd. It was a tight match and a narrow loss for us. Leaving the pitch, my teammates and this environment that day was a powerful and emotional moment which will stay with me for a long time.

You have now retired as a player, a moment that seems complicated for any athlete, how did you approach and manage it?

Retirement is never easy, but in my case, it was challenging due to a career-ending injury, a serious operation and very long rehabilitation, which affected my daily life and mental health. When you are injured as an athlete, you have a whole team around you to get you through the rehab, and I suddenly found myself alone to overcome the grief of losing the athlete part of me and the recovery. It was probably the most difficult year of my life, but I set new goals step by step, and my eyes opened to professional and personal opportunities and the small joys of life. Like finally having time to spend proper holidays with my boyfriend because I am not at camp!

You now live in Lausanne and work at EPCR, what is your role?

I moved to Lausanne five years ago, and after a short time at FISU, I started to work for EPCR. I have various roles across regulations, player welfare and medical operations, including matchday delivery, the anti-doping program, and disciplinary.

What do you like most about your job?

The people! I work with colleagues from the unions and leagues, clubs and various stakeholders who are passionate about the sport. An occasional fiery argument (yes, it happens!) on different takes on a high tackle, medical treatment, or compliance will only lead us to better the game together.

Also, rugby is a sport that relies on expert volunteers, like the Judicial Officers I work with. They all contribute to keeping the integrity of both the Champions and Challenge Cup, and I will never stop appreciating their attitude and reliability.

How do you use your career as a player in your job, especially for player welfare?

I use my experience as a player as an added value. As a former elite athlete, I have a deep understanding of the needs and concerns of players at all levels, and it helps me to navigate the player welfare program at EPCR. My biggest allies are the League, and Union Chief Medical Officers and Managers, whose expertise and collaboration are invaluable in maintaining the highest medical standards for both competitions.