THE BLOG

The FA Must Step Up and Take Responsibility in the Case of Ched Evans

06/01/2015 08:57 GMT | Updated 07/03/2015 10:59 GMT

At the start of the New Year, Ched Evans is once again in the news. A new petition to stop him being signed by Oldham Athletic has now become one of the fastest growing petitions ever.

In April 2012, Evans was found guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel in 2011 while a forward at Sheffield United. He received a five year sentence and was released in October having served half his sentence. He is still on probation. Shock that he had returned to training at Sheffield United led television presenter Charlie Webster to resign as a patron of the club.

Those in favour of Evans returning to league football focus their argument on rehabilitation.

But this case is not just about criminal rehabilitation, it's about role models and about behaviour that role models encourage. This is a moment when the Football Association (FA) should step up and take greater responsibility for the case, rather than the unedifying spectacle of dragging the argument out from club to club - and failing on both rehabilitation and role models in the process.

Of course convicted criminals who have served their time should be able to go back to work - indeed it is vital that they can in order to rehabilitate and prevent repeat offending. However, focusing solely on rehabilitation in this case misses a fundamental point. Some jobs are different.

Laws are in place to prevent people who have committed certain serious offences - including sex offences - from taking on certain jobs. This includes, for example doctors, teachers or those caring for children or the vulnerable. A solicitor with a conviction for a sex offence would not have the same ability to practice. And there are other jobs, where, although the law doesn't prohibit convicted offenders from working, the profession itself should recognise its responsibility, because even if individuals don't work directly with vulnerable people, they are nonetheless role models and have influence. No one would expect the BBC to take on convicted sex offenders as children's TV presenters.

Professional footballers have a great responsibility as role models for the next generation. They are incredibly highly paid; children wear their shirts with their names on the back. That's why the FA should take a stand. Of course Evans can work in football, like thousands of others who aren't role models on pitch. But he wouldn't be allowed to teach children in schools. And he shouldn't be put up as a role model for them either.

Football should recognise its powerful role in tackling violence against women for next generation. And the FA should recognise its role as a powerful professional association. By leaving club owners and managers to wrangle with this issue, they are failing in their responsibility. Last June, they backed Women's Aid's campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence and battle the sexist attitudes that underpin abuse against women. The FA's general secretary Alex Horne said football has a "key role to play in tackling such a serious problem."

We know this won't go away. Public protests will continue. It's not edifying for clubs and it's not fair on victims of rape and sex offences. And it is certainly not good for Evans' rehabilitation. What has become clear today is that the FA should take a clear stand, and, as the petition says, think about the damaging message about rape and sexual consent being given to fans.