THE FA has said it will intervene to try to stop football fans chanting songs ‘celebrating’ the crime committed by convicted rapist Ched Evans if, as expected, he returns to professional football following his release from prison.
A spokesman for the game’s governing body said such chants or chants ridiculing his victim would not be tolerated and any club signing Evans would be expected to take action.
In a sign the FA recognises the sensitivity and controversy surrounding the issue, it is prepared to make “pre-emptive contact” with any club preparing to re-introduce Evans before he begins playing to ensure fans are aware offensive chants will not be accepted.
Although the FA is directing its stance towards any club signing Evans, the sharpest relevance is for Sheffield United – Evans’s former club which has been widely touted as lining up his return.
Yesterday the club’s manager Nigel Clough revealed that discussions as to whether Evans should return to the club had taken place.
A petition calling on Sheffield United not to re-sign the player has now attracted more than 140,000 signatures and it is clear any club signing the player will find itself the focus of intense scrutiny.
Global sportswear manufacturer Adidas, which has a kit deal with Sheffield United, has said it would stand by the club if it decides to re-sign Evans – though it also pointed out the company would not have entertained a direct commercial relationship with the player.
Since his conviction for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room two-and-a-half years ago, some United supporters have continued to chant offensive songs.
An FA spokesman said: “If a club’s supporters chant songs that ‘praise’ the offender or ridicule and possibly identify the victim, the FA will make swift, and possibly even pre-emptive contact with the club, to discuss in collaboration what measures they can take to prevent this such as messaging to supporters through local media or directly through the clubs communications channels, working with supporters’ groups and so on.”
Rape Crisis said it recognised any convicted criminal had a right to return to society but added that if Evans, who is also a Welsh international, returned to the high-profile world of football “it’s equally important that the clear message is sent out that sexual violence and violence against women are completely unacceptable.”
Spokeswoman Katie Russell added: “We would also expect that the club wouldn’t tolerate fans who chant or sing songs ‘celebrating’ what Evans did or denigrating his victim.”
Evans continues to maintain his innocence despite the refusal of previous legal appeals and has submitted an application to have his conviction overturned to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).
However, the CCRC is not scheduled to begin considering Evans’s application until 2017.
The PFA, the players’ union, has said it supports Evans’s right to return to the game.
The player is understood to be due to leave prison this week after serving half of a five-year sentence.
n If you have been a victim of rape, the Rape Crisis helpline number is 0808 8029999