More than 10 years ago I was making my way into the world of umpiring hockey, I had coached and played but umpiring was something I had a more natural affinity towards. I was coaching an Eastern Gauteng team at the U21 IPT, after the coach pulled out on the eve of the tournament, being hosted by the Tshwane University of Technology. There I was introduced to a man who had recently umpired an Olympic Games final, John Wright. John then took the time to talk me through a few interpretations of the rules that I had questions about without wanting anything in return. John may not remember this, but its giants of the game making time for juniors that are a substance of what makes South African Hockey great.
Last night in Berlin at the 2017 FIH Hockey Star Awards, the now retired, John Wright was awarded as the FIH Men’s umpire of the Year. Many will view this as a long overdue award for John, but when you remember the award was only launched in 2015 it makes sense why it is only his first win.
In 2006 John was awarded the FIH Golden whistle having umpired his 100th international game and became only the third man to reach 200 test caps in 2016 (according to the FIH Website). His final test cap was, of course, the final of the FIH World League Semi-Finals in Johannesburg last year where his brother, Peter, was the umpire on the other side of the field.
There is no South African official and few international ones who have umpired 3 World Cup finals (the last 3), 2 Olympic Finals (Athens and Rio), whilst also umpiring in 3 other Olympic Games. He also umpired numerous finals in Continental Championships in Europe, Oceania, Asia, and Pan America, as well as Champions Trophy finals – a staggering career achievement and a CV beyond compare.
South Africa as a country has produced some of the finest hockey umpires in the World Game including Marelize de Klerk, Michelle Joubert, Gary Simmonds, Deon Nel and Peter Wright, but the man that stands on the shoulders of giants and has helped enhance the credibility of this country’s officiating has to be John Wright.
John, congratulations on your award, it is well deserved. Sports 24 Seven salutes you on an outstanding career, and I personally thank you for your development of the game in the country.