LONDON (AFP) - England's Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) said on Friday they hoped convicted rapist Ched Evans would be allowed to return to the sport after Sheffield United withdrew an offer to let their former striker train with the third-tier club.
United announced nine days ago that the 25-year-old Evans would train with them following a request from the PFA to allow him the opportunity to rebuild his fitness after his release from prison.
But the announcement provoked considerable public outcry, with several well-known celebrities standing down as club patrons, while Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill said she would want the stand named after her at Bramall Lane to be removed if Evans were to be re-signed by United.
Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - who is an MP for a Sheffield constituency - also urged United to think "long and hard" before letting Evans play for the Blades again.
In a statement issued on Friday, the PFA said it might be better for Evans to resume his career at another club and maintained its stance that footballers released from prison should be treated in just the same way as all former convicts.
"We fully understand and respect the opposing views to Ched's return to Sheffield United and clearly part of the issue related to him returning to the club he was previously with at the time of his imprisonment," the PFA statement said.
"With that in mind, it may ultimately be of benefit to both parties to move on and for Ched to look for a fresh start at a different club.
"We maintain our general position that the courts determine punishments and a return to society and a contribution to the community through employment is a key element of rehabilitation.
"We do not agree that society should impose different rules for footballers which go beyond the position of the law. In that regard, it is hoped that Ched will be given an opportunity at another club to return to the job he is trained to do."
Evans was jailed in April 2012 for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, North Wales.
He denied the offence but was found guilty by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court.
Evans admitted having sex with her but the woman told the jury she had no memory of the incident.
The prosecution said the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was too drunk to consent to sexual intercourse.
An appeal against Evans' conviction was rejected by three judges at the Court of Appeal in 2012.
But following his release from prison, he uploaded a video on his website protesting his innocence and vowed to clear his name.
United, explaining why they retracted their offer to Evans, said Thursday: "The club initially accepted a request from the PFA for Ched Evans to be able to train. The reaction to this has been at an intensity that could not have been anticipated when first announced."