Two sponsors of Oldham Athletic have threatened to end their association with the football club should they sign convicted rapist Ched Evans.
Former Wales international Evans has been linked with a return to football with the Greater Manchester club after being released from prison in October having served half of a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman in 2011.
On Sunday, Professional Footballers Association chairman Gordon Taylor revealed a League One club was set to sign the striker, and by Monday afternoon over 25,000 people had signed a petition calling on Oldham not to go through with the deal after reports identified the third tier club as the interested party.
The petition states: “We do believe he has the right to work. We believe that it does not have to be in a role where he influences views about sexual violence, and his presence on your pitch will do this.”
In November Sheffield United initially allowed former player Evans to train with the club, but severed ties with the 26-year-old after a public backlash.
The Yorkshire club’s back of the shirt sponsor, DBL Logistics, had said it would end its sponsorship if the club re-signed Evans, while main shirt sponsor John Holland Sales said it would "re-evaluate" its position,
Oldham are now facing similar threats from their own sponsors after being linked with Evans, however others have said their relationship would be unaffected.
Verlin Rainwater Solutions, sponsor of the Rochdale Road End stand at Oldham’s Boundary Park.
Director Craig Verlin told the Press Association:
The club know our stance and that is if they sign or allow Ched Evans to train we will be out of the door.We had a conversation with the club when they considered allowing Ched Evans to train with them six to eight weeks ago, and we were led to believe they had listened to the general input.But our sources have made it clear he will be training or signing for the club this week and it is not something we wish to be associated with.
Club partner Mecca Bingo tweeted its stance:
We can confirm will be ending our association with @OfficialOAFC if they sign Ched Evans.
— Mecca (@MeccaBingo) January 5, 2015
Craig Dean, chief executive of club partner Web Applications UK, said his company would not use its position to influence Oldham’s decision to sign Evans or not:
One inalienable human right, is the right to work. To deprive a human being of the right to work in their chosen profession should be a decision taken by a judicial system that dispassionately balances the rights of the individual against that of the society as a whole. There are cases where such rights should be restricted for the good of the whole, but it is not a decision that should be made by an IT company.Whether Oldham Athletic choose to employ Ched Evans is a decision for the manager and board of directors of the club, we will not interfere with that decision. We are conscious that there are those that wish us to exercise our influence, to whatever extent that exists, to prevent Ched Evans employment; but we believe to do so would be unethical, instead we will respect whatever decision is made by the club, who are best placed to determine Mr Evans’ employability.
Sports Direct, the club’s £1m shirt sponsor, declined to comment when contacted by City A.M. The Independent reports that it would not withdraw its backing if Evans were to sign.