Controversial Signing of Convicted Rapist by UK Football Club Collapses

Ched Evans
England's John Terry challenges Wales' Ched Evans (R) during their Euro 2012 Group G qualifying soccer match at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, south Wales, March 26, 2011. Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

The signing of convicted rapist Ched Evans by third tier English football club Oldham Athletic, which triggered fierce debate about the role of professional football in British society, has collapsed following three days of meetings and negotiations.

Simon Coney, the club's owner, had given the impression that the club was ready to take former Sheffield United forward and Wales international Evans on, telling sponsors that they should prepare for confirmation of the move, describing it as "80% likely".

"We believe he has served his time," he told Jewish Chronicle on Wednesday. Evans, who continues to protest his innocence, served half of a five-year jail term after he was convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman in 2012.

"There might be a cost implication but you have to stick to your principles," he said, referring to announcements made by the club's sponsors Verlin Rainwater Solutions, Mecca Bingo, ZenOffice and Nandos that said they would end their association with Oldham Athletic Football Club if the move went forward.

Craig Verling, director of Verlin Rainwater Solutions, told BBC Radio 5 live on Monday: "We have made the club aware as to where we stand."

"I wouldn't want to support a club who supports a convicted rapist," he continued.

Following Oldham's decision not to sign him, Evans released a statement about his conviction: "Upon legal advice, I was told not to discuss the events in question. This silence has been misinterpreted as arrogance and I would like to state that this could not be further from the truth."

"I do remain limited at present by what I can say due to the ongoing referral to the Criminal Cases Review Commission and whilst I continue to maintain my innocence, I wish to make it clear that I wholeheartedly apologise for the effects that night in Rhyl has had on many people, not least the woman concerned."

"It has been claimed that those using social media in an abusive and vindictive way towards this woman are supporters of mine. I wish to make it clear that these people are not my supporters and I condemn their actions entirely and will continue to do so."

According to the BBC, a club board member had said that the decision was largely taken because of the "enormous pressure from sponsors", despite the fact that, according to the Independent, the father of Ched Evans' fiancée, Karl Massey, had said that he would be willing to pay Evan's wages and compensate for the club for lost revenues if the sponsors withdrew. Massey and three of his business associates are reportedly prepared to put forward £2m, which they have estimated will be the approximate financial cost to the club if Massey is signed.

However, the football club had come under increasing pressure not just from sponsors from fans, police and local politicians. Over 50,000 people have signed an online petition, which started on Sunday, urging Oldham not to sign the former Sheffield United striker after serving half of a five-year sentence for the rape of a 19-year-old woman in 2011.

The decision has also reportedly been influenced by threats to the club's "staff and their families".

Opposition leader Ed Miliband voiced his opinion on the matter. "He hasn't shown remorse and I wouldn't take him on," Miliband told BBC Radio Manchester.

Labour's Shadow Minister for Sport, Clive Efford, also said that Evans should not be accepted as a player. "There are many professions that people cannot return to after committing this sort of crime and football must be one of them," he said in a statement.

Another of Oldham's sponsors, Web Applications UK, had said that it would continue to support the club regardless of whether Evans was signed or not, on the grounds that not doing so would be "unethical".

"To deprive a human being of the right to work in their chosen profession should be a decision taken by a judicial system that dispassionately balances the rights of the individual against that of the society as a whole," the company's chief executive Craig Dean said in a statement.

"There are cases where such rights should be restricted for the good of the whole, but it is not a decision that should be made by an IT company."

"Whether Oldham Athletic choose to employ Ched Evans is a decision for the manager and board of directors of the club. We will not interfere with that decision."

Controversial Signing of Convicted Rapist by UK Football Club Collapses | Sports