English soccer club Sheffield United on Thursday rescinded an offer that would have allowed Ched Evans, a former player recently released from prison after being convicted of rape, to train with the club. Evans, 25, was released earlier this month, having served two and a half years of a five-year sentence after he was convicted in 2011 of raping a 19-year-old woman in a Wales hotel.
Though Sheffield United has repeatedly said it had not reached a decision on resigning Evans to play, it announced earlier this month that it would allow him to use the club’s training facilities while he worked to regain playing form to find a new club. After massive public backlash, including a petition signed by more than 165,000 people and appeals from public figures, the club said in a statement Thursday that Evans was no longer welcome.
“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, but also to the communities in which Sheffield United is active,” the club said in a statement posted on its website.
“The club condemns rape and violence of any kind against women in the strongest possible terms.”
The statement also criticized the media and public figures who challenged its handling of Evans, saying that it was “disappointed at some of the inaccurate reporting, misinformed views and commentary, as well as the actions of a minority of individuals on social media.”
Among the opposition Sheffield United received over its decision to let Evans train, British Olympic gold medalist Jessica Ennis-Hill, — a lifelong supporter for whom one of their stadium stands is named — issued a challenge. Ennis-Hill had said that she would want her name taken off the stadium if the club resigned Evans. One of the team’s sponsors also threatened to end its partnership if Evans rejoined the team, and three board members left the club over the decision to allow him to train.
Evans has maintained his innocence, filing a second appeal and launching a website that declares he was “wrongly convicted.”