SHEFFIELD United’s decision to retract an offer allowing former player and convicted rapist Ched Evans to train with the club has been welcomed by opponents.
The club’s decision to give Evans the opportunity to use their facilities for training purposes following his release from prison has sparked controversy, with several patrons resigning over the row.
TV presenter Charlie Webster, singer Dave Berry and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have welcomed the latest announcement.
Sheffield United have admitted to underestimating the criticism they would receive after retracting their offer to let Evans train with the club.
A club statement said: “We recognise that a number of our supporters will be disappointed with this decision, but would ask that they remember the responsibilities we have not only to a fine and proud club, whose history stretches back over 125 years, but also to the communities in which Sheffield United is active and to the city we represent.”
Sheffield Hallam MP Mr Clegg tweeted: “A sensible decision by Sheffield United regarding Ched Evans. Step in the right direction.”
Miss Webster, who resigned as a patron during the row, wrote on Twitter: “Sheffield United have done the right thing by not letting Ched Evans train with them. It’s the right thing for the club, its fans, its community and the victim.
“(Sheffield United) is a great club with a fantastic history and now its future can be fantastic too.”
Mr Berry, who also resigned as a patron, told ITV: “I’m very pleased to hear it but why has it taken so long? And still, where are all the men in this? I haven’t seen anyone commenting from football clubs.
“I’m rather disappointed at men not supporting this girl and making any gestures. They’ve said nothing about the contract - we’re still only half-way there.”
Evans, 25, was released last month after serving half of a five-year jail sentence following his conviction for raping a 19-year-old woman in Rhyl, north Wales.
The player has always maintained his innocence despite being found guilty.
The club’s statement said members of the board consulted dispassionately with supporters, vice presidents, Community Foundation members, executives, staff, sponsors and other relevant stakeholders in order to help them reach their decision.
“Also, the club has been diligent in communicating with the Football Association, the Football League, the Professional Footballers’ Association (the PFA), the Football Association of Wales and the National Probation Service to take further soundings.
“The club initially accepted a request from the PFA for Ched Evans to be able to train. The reaction to this has been at an intensity that could not have been anticipated when first announced.
“As noted in previous statements from the club, the legal system of this country provides for both the punishment and the rehabilitation of every person who has been found guilty of a crime.
“Sheffield United will not be used to promote the view that professional footballers should be treated differently, as has been the wont of certain sections of the media and various commentators. In addition, we remain disappointed at some of the inaccurate reporting, misinformed views and commentary, as well as the actions of a minority of individuals on social media. Professional footballers must be treated as equals before the law.
“The club condemns rape and violence of any kind against women in the strongest possible terms. The club is aware that Ched Evans is pursuing legal recourse via the Criminal Cases Review Commission in the determination he has to clear his name. We trust that he will be afforded a fair hearing.
“During this whole period, we have been served a timely reminder of what we have been throughout our history: Sheffield United is a family and community club that, even in times of adversity, will remain strong and grow from its experiences.”
The development came on the day that a BBC radio presenter who said women should “keep their knickers on” while discussing the Evans case apologised on air.
Nick Conrad, a talk show host on BBC Radio Norfolk, made the comments during a live debate about the issue.
After criticism from some listeners and rape campaigners, he began this morning’s show by saying sorry.