Sheffield United have reversed a decision to allow convicted rapist and ex-striker Ched Evans to train with the club.
The U-turn comes after an ‘intense’ reaction the Blades said ‘could not have been anticipated’.
Evans served two-and-a-half years of a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel in 2011 before his release last month.
The 25-year-old former United striker was given permission to train with the club at the request of the Professional Footballers’ Association last week – a decision which sparked controversy.
Four members of the Sheffield United Community Foundation – including TV presenter Charlie Webster and musician Paul Heaton –quit as patrons of the foundation after the decision.
And Olympic heptathlete champion and Blades fan Jessica Ennis-Hill said she would demand her name was removed from a stand at the club’s Bramall Lane Stadium if United re-signed Evans.
Announcing the change of heart over Evans last night, United stressed its role as a ‘family club’ and expressed ‘disappointment’ at the behaviour of ‘a minority of individuals on social media’.
The club said: “After ongoing and extensive deliberation, United have decided to retract the opportunity for its former player, Ched Evans, to use the club’s facilities for training purposes, as was previously intended.
“Members of the board have consulted with the club’s supporters, vice-presidents, community foundation members, executives, staff, sponsors and other stakeholders in order to help it reach this decision.
“We recognise a number of our supporters will be disappointed, but would ask they remember the responsibilities we have not only to a fine and proud club, whose history stretches back more than 125 years, but also to the communities in which Sheffield United is active and to the city we represent.
“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.
“The legal system provides for both the punishment and rehabilitation of every person found guilty of a crime. United will not be used to promote the view that professional footballers should be treated differently, as has been the want of certain sections of the media and various commentators.
“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. 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 Ched Evans is pursuing legal recourse via the Criminal Cases Review Commission in the determination he has to clear his name. We trust he will be afforded a fair hearing.
“During this 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.”
Miss Webster, aged 32, welcomed the Blades’ U-turn.
She said: “It’s the right thing for the club, its fans Its community and the victim.
“United is a great club with a fantastic history and now its future can be fantastic too.”
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