‘Has Ched Evans served his time?’

Since Ched Evans was released from prison, having been convicted of an offence of rape, his case has hit the headlines. There has been furious debate about whether or not he should be allowed to continue his career as a professional footballer and his former club Sheffield United retracted their initial offer to let him train with the team due to the negative response from the supporters, officials, staff and sponsors. Hartlepool have also bowed to public pressure and declined to sign the striker. Others argue just as forcefully that Evans has served his time. He has been punished and he should be rehabilitated. They argue that in a civilised society once someone has served their sentence they should not continue to be punished.

Everyone it seems has an opinion on the whether or not Evans should be allowed to continue his football career. Gordon Taylor, the Professional Footballers Association’s chief executive, says that Evans has a legal right to play football again, having served his time. Footballers such as Lee Hughes who received a 6 year jail sentence for causing death by dangerous driving and Marlon King who received an 18 month jail sentence for sexual assault have both been reinstated and allowed continue with their football career.  There are no written rules in the world of football preventing clubs from signing players who have criminal convictions.  This is a much thornier issue which provokes strong opinion and equally strong reactions.

Many argue that footballers are role models and even a single offence attached to them, whether that be criminal damage, assault, rape, dangerous driving should lead to their complete dismissal. Mainly however it is the nature of Evans’ conviction which has created the furore around his future. In some quarters Evans has been labelled ‘The Rapist Footballer’ and the question remains should he be allowed to return to football?

Diverse individuals such as Olympian Jessica Ennis-Hill, Labour Leader Ed Miliband and many thousands of people have signed petitions oppose Evans re-employment into football. Due to the media outcry, it seems that any football club that seeks to sign Evans will have a tough battle ahead of them due to club sponsors and supporters opposing his presence at the club. Recently Evans was linked to Oldham Athletic Football Club, sponsors of the club including Mecca Bingo and Verlin Rainwater Solutions have both already said that they will end their association with the club if Evans signs. Craig Verling, director of Verlin Rainwater Solutions, which sponsors Oldham’s main stand, told BBC Radio 5 live: “We have made the club aware as to where we stand. I wouldn’t want to support a club who supports a convicted rapist.”

The question of whether or not Evan’s has served his time is one that is likely to remain unanswered. The public perception of the offence of Rape and those responsible for committing such an offence has a wide interpretation and not all people will agree or even accept the legislation behind such a crime nor will they accept a defence to the crime. The nature of Evan’s conviction has been fundamental in preventing him pursuing his chosen career.  It is public opinion rather than the law that appears to be preventing Evan’s resuming his career.  Whilst a democratic society might in theory uphold the principle that once you have served your time, you are to be rehabilitated within the community, the reality appears to be that the public has no appetite for the sort of rehabilitation which enables a man convicted of rape to play professional football.