The Ched Evans rape case raises a number of moral, ethical, sporting and legal issues.
Evans, the former 25-year-old Sheffield United and Welsh International player was found guilty by the Crown Court in April 2012 of raping a 19-year-old woman in a Hotel in Rhyl, North Wales, in May 2011, and sentenced to a five-year gaol term. His conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal in November 2012.
He was released from prison on licence on 17 October, 2014 after serving half of his sentence.
Evans has always maintained his innocence of this offence and, it has been announced on 19 October, 2014, that his request to have his case investigated by the UK Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) is to be fast tracked, following a request by his lawyers for priority; and the proceedings, therefore, could begin within weeks, rather than within the usual period of months. However, in announcing this decision, the CCRC has stated that this is not to be taken as an indication of how strong his case for review might be!
Naturally, Evans wants to return to playing football for his former club and this has given rise to a widespread debate on whether he should or should not be offered a new contract. In fact, more than 150,000 people have signed an online petition against his returning to play for the club. Feelings are running high on this issue! However, there are some feelings amongst officials within his former club that, having served his time and paid his debt to society, he should be allowed a second chance.
In view of the CCRC development mentioned above, it is expected that no decision will be taken by the club until the results of the CCRC investigation are made known.
Rape is generally regarded as a heinous crime and, if the CCRC do not find any legal reasons for referring his case back to the Court of Appeal, many people would be of the opinion that he should not be allowed to play football again for his former or any other club. Not least, arguing that he has brought his club and his sport into disrepute and it would not be ethical to reinstate him. After all, falling foul of the criminal law through a speeding offence is one thing; but being convicted of and having a lengthy custodial sentence for rape imposed is something else!
Others might argue that he should be given a second chance. Nowadays, there is a general and widespread public policy to rehabilitate offenders and return them to society, which would include the sporting community. When Tiger woods, a number of years ago, fell from grace because of a series of extra-marital affairs, his sponsor NIKE stuck with him, whereas another of his sponsors, ACCENTURE, terminated their contract with him forthwith.
The Lance Armstrong serial doping affair, that recently came to light, has also highlighted that sports stars, that have become ‘role models’, do not always play the game and live up to the persona they portray and the expectations of their fans, and such cases have prompted the greater use of so-called ‘morality clauses’ in sports persons marketing contracts, especially sponsorship, product endorsement and image rights agreements, which are highly lucrative for both parties.
For a review of the pros and cons of so-called ‘morality clauses’ (also known, colloquially, as ‘bad boy clauses’), see ‘Money morality and megastars’ by J Tyrone Marcus in ‘Global Sports Law and Taxation Reports’, June 2013, at pp. 37-40. It all seems to be a matter of money, now that sport is such big business, and not least football, the world’s most popular and lucrative sport, and Marcus concludes his article as follows:
“At the end of the day, financial considerations may very well trump moral ones. Sponsors have to literally count the costs of their investments in individual celebrities, a process which tends to bring with it more risks than when they sponsor teams. Whether it is Nike, Adidas, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, TSTT or any other corporate sponsor, the prudence of including morality clauses in endorsement agreements will continue to stimulate lively debate.
This issue appears destined to stay because, admittedly, even famous sportspersons are fallible human beings, prone to error. As one songwriter put it some years ago they’re ‘only human… born to make mistakes’.”
But should money be the be all and end all and rule everything? Is it not high time to put some common decency and ethics back into the practice of sport for the benefit of all its stakeholders?
What do you our readers think?
Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw is an International Sports Lawyer, Academic and Author and may be contacted by e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.