I did nothing wrong - ref Ben Thaler speaks out after ban

Top referee Ben Thaler has spoken for the first time about his seven-week suspension, anger at being falsely accused and determination to get back to controlling major finals.

By Peter Smith
Sunday, 31st May 2020, 9:39 am

The 38-year-old, from Wakefield, was reinstated in March after a Rugby Football League (RFL) investigation cleared him of wrongdoing.

He had refereed just once this season - taking charge of Leeds Rhinos’ Betfred Super League round one clash with Hull on February 2 - before being suspended and was reinstated the week the sport was shut down due to coronavirus.

No details were given at the time, but Thaler revealed he had been accused in an anonymous letter of making an offensive remark regarding another match official.

Ben Thaler referees a Super League showdown between Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors. Picture by Paul Currie/SWpix.com

He completely denied the accusation and stressed: “It was a shock the RFL took the stance they did.”

He said: “If an anonymous letter comes in my understanding is it normally gets put in the bin, but they did a vigorous inquiry.

“It cost me a lot to clear my name, which it shouldn’t have done, because of some malicious person. I was completely exonerated and cleared of that and any wrongdoing.”

Thaler, who was represented by sports lawyer Richard Cramer, of Leeds-based Front Row Legal, added: “I don’t think they [the letter writer] realise the effect they have on people’s career, family, livelihood, reputation - the lot.

Referee Ben Thaler makes a point. Picture by Allan McKenzie SWpix.com

“Luckily the panel saw the evidence was very poor. It should never have got that far.

“Unfortunately, the day I got cleared was the day it [rugby league] got suspended, so it has been like being retired - I haven’t worked since February.”

Thaler made his first grade debut in 2001 and stepped up to Super League level four years later. He has refereed more than 500 games, including 380 in Super League. In 2015 he was in the middle for both the Challenge Cup final and Super League decider.

“It is a shame, for me the timing was all wrong,” Thaler said. “It went on too long, to be out for seven weeks and found not guilty, that is hard going.

Ben Thaler is hoping for another five years as a grade one referee. Picture by Steve Riding.

“I have just got to bounce back. I have no ill-feeling with the RFL, apart from it took too long.

“I want to get back and prove I am the number one ref in the game and the way to do that is to go out and ref and pick up as many honours as I can.

“This is my 20th season and I hope I can ref for at least another five years in the top-flight.”

Thaler said he was overwhelmed with support from throughout rugby league during his enforced layoff.

“I had more than 700 positive messages, some from people I don’t know,” he said. “It was quite heartwarming, really nice. Some of my colleagues were outstanding and throughout it all Steve Ganson [RFL head of referees] was brilliant in making sure I was all right.

“He was in daily contact during the seven weeks I was off. He went above and beyond, which was really good. Richard Cramer was very good and Ron Hill, the former players’ agent, rang me every day.”

Thaler is chairman of governors at Outwood Academy, Freeston and West Oaks Special School in Boston Spa, as well as chairman of trustees the Freeston And Sagar’s Almshouses charity in Normanton, all of which kept him occupied while not refereeing. The RFL’s nine full-time match officials are all furlough until the end of June and Thaler said: “I have kept myself in decent shape, it has been like a longer pre-season.

“We will need a bit more rigorous time on running, but I have been doing a lot of cycling, I’ve got myself a bike and been doing over 150 miles a week on the bike over the last eight weeks.

“I’ve been along the towpaths in Wakefield, Castleford and Leeds. I get some funny looks from fans when I cycle past - I am sure a few of them want to shove me in the canal!”

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