Jessica Ennis-Hill’s stance exposes gutless nature of Ched Evans debate

To be dispassionate about issue it is to pretend that rape is just like any other crime

Convicted rapist Ched Evans is training with Sheffield United having been released from prison. Photograph:  Jon Buckle/PA Wire.

Convicted rapist Ched Evans is training with Sheffield United having been released from prison. Photograph: Jon Buckle/PA Wire.

 

Amazing sometimes how what looks to be a hopelessly knotted issue can be untangled with a single sentence out of the right mouth. Jessica Ennis-Hill did everyone a big favour last week. She put it up to Sheffield United and warned that they would have to take her name off their main stand if they re-employed convicted rapist Ched Evans. With one act of gumption, she exposed everyone else’s lack of it.

Suddenly, all the obfuscation and dithering and posturing seemed not just pointless but gutless.

There was no one-hand, other-hand from Ennis-Hill. No stuttering and sliming away from the question like Greg Dyke’s cowardly performance on Newsnight. She just took the simplest of stands – Not In My Name.

It really was that straight-forward. Ennis-Hill didn’t retry the case, she didn’t pick through the nature of rehabilitation or redemption.

She just said she wanted no part of it. She made it clear that Sheffield United can do what they want to do but they can’t hitch their wagon to the UK’s most wholesome and unimpeachable sports star while they do it. So if it can be clear and straight-forward for Jess Ennis, why must it be complicated for the rest of us?

The most common argument made for Evans being welcomed back by Sheffield United – or any other club – is that everyone must have the right to rebuild a career, no matter their walk of life and no matter their crime. Take the emotion out of it and the dispassionate argument is pretty easy to make.

Word of objection

The day after Evans was released, a group of Sheffield United fans on an away trip to Bradford started singing about him as the train trundled north through Yorkshire. “He’s coming for you, He’s coming for you – women of Bradford, He’s coming for you.” That doesn’t happen when an ex-con plumber goes back to work. To be dispassionate about it is also to pretend that the law of the land leaves football with no other choice but to allow Evans resume his career.

Spurious reasons

Roy KeaneRobbie Savage

There is nothing whatsoever to stop Sheffield United deciding they are looking at other options.

They could have put this to bed just as easily as Jess Ennis did and they could have done it a month ago. A simple statement saying that while they acknowledge Evans’s right to continue his career, his contract with Sheffield United had run out and they would be moving on without him. They have a lengthy customer charter and equality policy on their website – why not decide that those words actually mean something for once?

This reluctance to wash their hands of Evans feeds into something far more insidious. The notion is allowed to endure that maybe he was innocent or wrongly convicted. His defenders point out that the case is being reviewed and equate this to an appeal. Again, this is not true.

Evans has already appealed and three High Court judges decided it wasn’t worth sending forward.

The case is now with the Criminal Cases Review Commission in England. It should be pointed out that the CCRC has had 18,513 applications since it was set up in 1997. Of those, only 374 convictions – or two per cent – have been quashed.

Tiny chance

Maybe none of this is surprising. Football fans sing for their own, regardless. Football clubs are about winning matches, regardless. Football managers are two bad games away from the sack at any moment in time so they’re very picky when deciding what to care about.

There’s a passage in Keane’s book where he talks about the fall-out from a some internet phone footage of three of his Sunderland squad with a girl in a hotel room. Or, as he coyly puts it in the book, they had “allegedly been caught on video making out with a girl”.

Niall Quinn wanted the three players dropped for Saturday but Keane wanted to play them, pointing out that they hadn’t done anything illegal.

“I think I’d have been more annoyed if they’d missed training,” he writes. “I wasn’t condoning their behaviour but I was their manager, not their father or judge and jury. And I had a football match coming up that I had to try and win. [They] weren’t Messi and Ronaldo but they were important to me.”

In the end, Quinn got his way and the players were dropped. Just for one game but the point was made. As Keane concedes, he wanted to change Sunderland’s image. He wanted to do things the right way.

What do Sheffield United want to do? Do they even know?

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