Last year’s recipients of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Umpire of the Year awards were Belgium’s Laurie Delforge and Germany’s Christian Blasch.
Both umpires proved they had what it takes to umpire at the top level when they took charge for the finals of the Olympic Games in Rio 2016. For Delforge, the Olympic final was a match between two European sides she knows well, Great Britain and the Netherlands; while Blasch took charge with South Africa’s John Wright as Argentina played the Belgium Red Lions.
For Blasch, the award came after many years dedicated to umpiring at the highest level. He has been umpiring on the international stage since 1998 and has been a top level umpire since 2001. During that time he has been involved in three World Cups (2006, 2010, 2014) and four Olympic Games (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016).
Laurine Delforge is a relative newcomer to the hockey scene as she began her international umpiring career in 2012, having started umpiring seriously in 2008 – at the age of 18. Rio 2016 was Delforge’s first Olympic appointment and she made history by becoming the first umpire debutant to take charge in an Olympic final. Delforge is also rare on the umpiring circuit in so much as she also plays top flight hockey, turning out for Belgium premier side Royal Antwerp Hockey Club and also representing her country at indoor hockey.
"My dad suggested that, since I seemed so confident about calling games, I should give umpiring a try. The thing is: I never say no when it comes to a challenge."
Laurine Delforge, FIH Hockey Stars Awards Umpire of the Year 2016
In an interview with the hockey website Self-Pass, Delforge said: “To be honest, becoming an umpire was never part of the plan. I started umpiring pretty much on a dare. As a player, I was often very upset by the umpires’ decisions. Until the day my dad suggested that, since I seemed so confident about calling games, I should give umpiring a try. The thing is: I never say no when it comes to a challenge. So I took it on, aged 17, and I really enjoyed it.”
Since they took centre stage at the 2016 Olympics and then were rewarded at the 2016 FIH Hockey Stars Awards, both umpires have found themselves representing their sport and their fellow umpires to a much larger extent. Blasch was recently called upon to comment in the newspaper, The Hamburg Abendblatt, upon the proposed introduction of video refereeing in football matches in Germany’s Bundesliga, while Delforge most recently took part in an innovative online hockey conference, organised and facilitated by Belgium hockey website Hockey Today.
The quietly confident presentation from Delforge was titled “Hello from the other side,” and gave great insight into the umpire’s view of hockey, stressing the importance of great communication – verbal and non-verbal – as well as the importance of leaving all ego’s behind then you step on the pitch.
Accepting the award last year, Blasch outlined how much it means to umpires to be recognised for the vital role they play in the game. He said: “It is the dream of any sports person to be involved in an Olympic gold medal match. Due to recent rule changes, hockey is a fast and entertaining sport, and for us as umpires it is sometimes challenging to keep pace with the development but it makes it so exciting to be part of the game.”