The feminine touch dominated SuperSport Park last weekend when more than 26 000 runners took part in the Pretoria leg of the Spar Women’s 10km Challenge which started and ended at the venue, but the fairer sex have been taking pride of place at the ground since Elise Lombard, the efficient, much-loved former CEO, oversaw the move there from Berea Park in 1986. Lombard’s sad passing in August 2012 has seen Jacques Faul replace her as chief executive, but Patricia Kambarami has been promoted to chief operating officer to continue the tradition of female leaders in Northerns cricket.
Wright is adamant that events such as the Spar Women’s 10km Challenge and promotions such as Kambarami’s are crucial to the future well-being of Titans cricket.
“Titans cricket cannot sustain itself with only cricketing content, we have to make our assets work for us. One of those is our world-class stadium, but we can’t rely on just 14 days of profitable cricket every year. We need other streams of income and this is where Jacques Faul has been so good and he’s way ahead of the rest in terms of innovations.
“The Franchise and Africa Sixes and the Northerns Bash are all his initiatives and he’s making the stadium work for us in enhancing the Titans brand. It’s been set back a bit recently, but we’re busy getting proposals from developers and there’s a fair amount of interest that shows that SuperSport Park is not just seen as a cricket-only ground.
“We need other revenue sources and we want to attract more people to SuperSport Park. Things like the Spar Women’s Race, which markets and promotes the ground as more of a community centre. And we’re not just looking at sports events, we want to be multi-cultural. SuperSport Park is at the hub of business and a rich sporting culture and it’s ideally situated in terms of the Gautrain and the N1,” Wright told The Pretoria News.
As for Kambarami’s appointment, Wright says the former marketing and events manager’s promotion was thoroughly well-deserved and another sign that the Titans are looking to the future.
“Transformation is a term that’s used loosely sometimes, but the essence of it is that I don’t see it as an appointment of someone of colour; Patricia has been appointed because of her abilities and she just happens to be black. She has shown her qualities and it’s absolutely on merit. She’s proven to everyone that she’s more than qualified for the post and that’s why it’s been so well accepted.
“Things like that have to happen in this cut-throat environment and recently there have been some other bold steps like all Premier League clubs being required to have at least one player of colour and our executive becoming 50/50. In the past there was a stigma around transformation and we were very much Afrikaans and all-white, but that is changing,” Wright said.
When Wright is not wearing a jacket and tie in his role as president of the union, he is out on the sports fields himself. While he played some Premier League cricket for the then Pretoria Tech, and has been in charge of cricket and hockey at the renamed Tshwane University of Technology for 20 years, he is perhaps best known as one of the leading hockey umpires in the world.
Wright has officiated in four Olympic Games (one final) and four World Cups, including being in charge of three finals.
“I think I’ve got two or three years left as an umpire, there’s an age cut-off of 47 for international hockey. So the Rio Olympics are in sight, but it depends on how fit I stay and whether the fire still burns. I have accomplished most things in terms of hockey umpiring, but I still want to contribute, although I now have a huge responsibility to cricket,” Wright said.
A board meeting can often be like a hockey Test with 22 under-pressure players getting emotional, and Wright has a knack of handling those sort of explosive situations.
“I think my umpiring does help at board meetings! I’ve learnt to listen and operate under pressure, how to deal with personalities.”
While the stadium and the union finances are important, Wright, exposed as he has been to top-class sport, knows how important it is for the Titans team to have the right culture and to enjoy success on the field.
“We’re not as prescriptive as to say trophies are required, but the coach is under no illusions as to how handy trophies are! We have to be realistic, a team will always have ups and downs, but with the quality squad we have, the Titans should always be in contention.
“I’m not a president who digs his nose into the team’s affairs, the coach and CEO must run that show, but there was previously an ethos of lacklustre performance and preparation and to survive in the franchise environment, there can be no place for that. It’s difficult for the coach to turn that around, but Rob Walter is determined and committed to promoting far more responsibility and productive preparation,” Wright said.
The product of Selborne College in East London also gives full support to the University of Pretoria’s dominance of local club cricket, which has ruffled some feathers.
“I know it’s not the opinion of all the clubs, but Tuks are an extremely valuable asset for us. If we draw comparisons with other franchises who don’t have a strong university, then we see they battle. Tuks are at the forefront of coaching and performance in South Africa and their record speaks for itself.
“They must be doing something right and their professionalism and ethics must rub off positively on the other clubs. So I see no reason to clip their wings, it would only be to the detriment of the franchise,” Wright said.
While the changing face of cricket is most obvious at the franchise level, the amateur, club game also needs plenty of attention. Fortunately Wright is a leader who has his feet firmly in both camps.
“I’m very much a club man, I support the old traditions. Clubs are critical but we’re also moving into a very professional era. The days of volunteers running the show are few and far between. We need the right mix of club and professional people to steer us in the right direction.”
John Wright certainly seems to have the Titans ship facing in the right direction.