Since being released from prison 30 months into his 5-year sentence last month, Ched Evans’ controversial return to football has created a nationwide frenzy. Meanwhile, Oscar Pistorius continues to dominate both front page and back page headlines.
The sporting world now houses a distinct division between those who accept, and those who reject, the right of convicted sportsmen to reignite their professional careers.
Ched Evans had his blossoming football career halted in April 2012 when he was convicted of raping a 19 year-old woman, who was described by the prosecution as “too drunk to consent”.
Oscar Pistorius similarly had his illustrious running career put on hold last month, having been sentenced to 5 years in prison for culpable homicide. Commentators have nevertheless suggested that he is likely to only serve 10 months of his sentence.
However, the pair’s early release may not suffice for an early return to their sporting careers. Craig Spence of the International Paralympic Committee has already put an end to suggestions that Pistorius will be running competitively again in the next 5 years, saying “the earliest he would be able to compete – if he wanted to – is 2019”.
This move will prevent Pistorius from competing in the Paralympics until Tokyo 2020, with Rio 2016 now out of the equation.
Sheffield United sponsors have threatened to end their partnerships with the club if Evans is re-signed
Evans’ future is looking just as bleak. The decision of his former club Sheffield United to allow him to train with them in the aftermath of his release has been met with outrage. 157,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Sheffield United not to resign the 25 year-old striker.
Furthermore, Sheffield United back-of-the-shirt sponsors, DBL Logistics, have promised to end their partnership with the club if they re-sign Evans, while main sponsors John Holland Sales have threatened to do the same. This follows the resignation of 3 United patrons on Wednesday, including TV presented Charlie Webster.
Evans seems to have done himself no favours with his apparent lack of remorse. In a video statement released on his personal website, the former Wales striker claimed that “The acts I engaged in that night were consensual in nature and not rape”.
Sarah Green, of End Violence Against Women, was “appalled” by the video and Sheffield United’s decision to invite Evans back to train. She noted how “Footballers are critical role models for young men and women”, yet Evans is “now set to return to top flight football when he has shown no remorse for his crime”.
Despite the growing outrage, Evans’ potential return is within the law. He was given a jail sentence, but his punishment did not involve a ban from any particular careers.
Should Sheffield United resign the striker, nor would they be breaking any rules within football. Convicted players have returned to the game in the past, such as Joey Barton who was convicted of assault, and Marlon King who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for sexual assault.
The PFA has been consistent in allowing players the right to return to professional football having served their sentence. Gordon Taylor, chief of the PFA, claimed that following their sentence, “an individual is entitled to be released to continue with his or her life”. Speaking to the BBC, he added “I didn’t know there was a law that said once you came out of prison you still can’t do anything”.
Defence lawyer Barry Roux has described Pistorius as “broke” as a result of his 7-month trial.
As Taylor points out, neither Evans nor Pistorius have any legal restrictions on their involvement in professional sport following the end of their prison sentences. Both are entitled to compete to as high a level as their ability will allow them. As pointed out above by Spence though, Pistorius will have a longer waiting time, due to the tough stance adopted by the IPC.
However, beyond their legal freedoms, the significant barrier that still exists between Evans, Pistorius, and professional sport, is public opinion.
In Evans’ case, it appears increasingly unlikely that any Football League team will take the risk of signing him. Regardless of Evans’ quality as a player, the financial implications following from the loss of sponsors, and the controversy that would accompany the signing of the striker, are likely to deter any club from approaching him.
Sponsorship is likely to form a similar obstacle for Pistorius. Defence lawyer Barry Roux has described the former Paralympic star as “broke” as a result of his 7-month trial. Without savings to fall back on, and with the prospect of sponsors looking far-fetched, it is unclear how Pistorius would fund a comeback in athletics.
Moreover, competing in IPC events is not solely down to the individual athlete’s performances. In order to compete, Pistorius would have to be selected as part of the South Africa squad, by the South African Paralympic Association. Even if Pistorius could secure sponsorship to fund his career, his selection to compete in IPC events would surely be met by significant public disgust, as has been the case for Ched Evans.
Even if they are legally entitled to do so, the public condemnation of their actions may render a return to their professional careers an impossibility for Evans and Pistorius.