Oldham considering signing convicted rapist despite public outcry, possible sponsor loss
Oldham appear not to have ruled out signing convicted rapist Ched Evans.
The former Sheffield United striker has been linked with the club as he seeks a return to football having served half of a five-year prison sentence.
And chief executive Neil Joy read a statement outside the club’s Boundary Park ground in which he said the club would "continue to have conversations" with the Professional Footballers’ Association and "conduct due diligence" on the potential signing of Evans.
Joy said in his statement: "Oldham Athletic is not at this stage making any official announcement with regard to the speculation concerning Ched Evans. Whilst acknowledging the considerable media attention, we continue to have conversations with representative bodies such as the PFA and will conduct due diligence with regard to any decision we make on this matter.
"Although it has been reported that a press conference would be held, we will officially advise if and when any such event will take place. The club would also request that its stakeholders and partners’ position and privacy be respected until this matter has been concluded. We will not be making any further comment for the time being."
Evans was found guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman in 2011 but has protested his innocence since being released in October.
The news that the club is in discussions with the player provoked outrage among fans, sponsors, local politicians and others in senior positions within the community.
As of 5pm on Monday afternoon, over 28,000 people had signed a petition urging the club not to sign the former Sheffield United and Manchester City forward.
Clive Efford MP, shadow minister for sport, told Sky Sports News that the Football Association should consider banning the player if the appeal against his conviction fails.
Efford said: "He has an appeal to the (Criminal Cases Review Commission) which may well come back and say his conviction was unsafe, and they may quash it. In that case, he almost certainly would be free and available to play football again.
"But he’s fresh out of a conviction for rape and there are plenty of professions to which you would not be able to return, in spite of the fact you’d served your sentence, and I think football is one of them. We cannot send the sort of message that it would to young people, that this man’s a rapist and it’s okay to hold that position – an exalted position in the minds of many young people in the local community. The Football Association have the power to revoke his affiliation to the FA, his registration to be able to play football, and I think they have to look at this.
"They have the inclusion committee, chaired by Heather Rabbatts, and I hope they will come to the conclusion that at least until the (CCRC) has come back with its conclusion, that he should not be available to play. That would end all this speculation. I can understand why Oldham would see this striker, who’s probably coming very cheap, as an attractive proposition but there are moral issues here that I think we just cannot ignore."
Greater Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd implored Oldham to stay away from Evans.
”Ched Evans is a convicted rapist and, whilst I strongly believe in the principle of rehabilitation, it will send out entirely the wrong message if they offer him a contract," he said. "All offenders have the right to rebuild their lives and make amends after they have served their sentence, but Ched Evans’ lack of remorse and failure to acknowledge his offense means it is simply inappropriate for him to be on a Greater Manchester football pitch week in and week out presenting himself as some kind of role model, especially to young people."
The club risks losing sponsors if they sign Evans.
Craig Verling, a director of Verlin Rainwater Solutions which sponsors a stand at Boundary Park, said the company would terminate its involvement with the Latics if Evans joined up with the League One outfit.
Verling told Press Association Sport: ”The club know our stance and that is, if they sign or allow Ched Evans to train we will be out of the door."
Another Oldham sponsor, Web Applications UK, said it would continue to support the club irrespective of its decision over Evans.
The company’s chief executive Craig Dean said he believed it would be ”unethical” to seek to influence the situation in either direction.
Oldham manager Lee Johnson chose his words carefully as he spoke to the 40-plus assembled media who had gathered outside Boundary Park on Monday.
The 33-year-old said: "I understand these are very difficult circumstances. I respect that for everyone. It’s a board decision… I don’t want to comment. Whatever the board decides I will be a part of."
Evans scored 35 goals in 42 appearances for Sheffield United during his final season (2011-12) before he was sent to prison.
The Blades offered Evans a chance to train with them but retracted that offer after a public backlash.
Tranmere and Hartlepool also rejected the opportunity to sign the striker while Maltese side Hibernians claimed last week that they had made a contract offer to Evans for the remainder of the season, although the BBC quoted a spokesman for Evans denying the player received such an offer.