John Wright is one of the best known faces on the international hockey umpiring circuit and it is hard to imagine that the fair-minded and good humoured South African will no longer be gracing top international matches with his presence. But Wright hung up his whistle after 219 international matches, fittingly finishing his career at the 2017 Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Wright’s work as an international umpire of the highest calibre was honoured at the Hockey Stars Awards when he received the Male Umpire of the Year award, presented by Stefan Abel, Honary President of the German Hockey Federation (DHB).
Over an umpiring career that spanned 21 years, Wright officiated at an incredible five Olympic Games, including two finals in 2008 and 2016, as well as four World Cups. He also became only the fourth umpire to reach the 200 international games milestone.
Talking to FIH about what the award means to him, Wright says: “It is indeed a real highlight and honour for me to win this prestigious FIH umpiring award, and I'm really grateful to receive it.”
While Olympic Games and World Cups rank high on the South African’s favourite moments, the final match at the 2017 Hockey World League Semi-Final really stands out as a special memory. “Most definitely my best moment last year and a really emotional one for me, was umpiring my last tournament, the World League Semi-finals in Johannesburg, and umpiring with my brother Peter.”
The Wright brothers umpired the men’s final between Germany and Belgium in Johannesburg together and the occasion was made even more special because many of John’s family were also present.
Reflecting back on how umpiring has changed in the 20 plus years that he has been involved, John says: “The game at an international level has made major strides in the last couple of years. It is now an exciting sport to watch and enjoy and this is not only for the players, but also the umpire, spectators and TV audience.
“The speed and skill of the players is remarkable. That said, it is becoming more and more difficult to umpire, so umpires are going to have to properly prepare, especially physically and mentally, should they want to make a valuable contribution to the game and spectacle.”
Wright points to the introduction of the self-pass and four quarters as “amazing” improvements to the game. And he feels the role of the video umpire will become far more prominent as the games continue to get faster and faster.
For now though, he is taking a break from all things hockey and concentrating on two other great loves: cricket and his young family. But, he says, he is sure he will be taking an active role in hockey again further down the line.