Sponsors exit soccer club as it looked to sign rapist

A deal that would have seen a convicted rapist sign for soccer club Oldham Athletic has been called off, according to media reports, as a number of sponsors behind the team pulled out.

The controversy surrounds soccer player Ched Evans, who was jailed for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, Wales in 2011.

Evans was released in October after serving half of his five-year sentence. In a statement on Thursday, Evans maintained his innocence but said he wanted to "wholeheartedly apologize for the effects that night in Rhyl has had on many people, not least the woman concerned".

Several media reports on Thursday suggested that the club has ended talks with Evans, despite Oldham Athletic owner Simon Corney saying on Wednesday that there was an "80 percent chance" the deal would go through, in an interview with The Jewish Chronicle.

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The club is expected to issue a statement later in the day.

Prior to the media reports, Verlin Rainwater Solutions, a sponsor of Oldham Athletic Football Club (OAFC), said it is going to sever ties with the club.

"We sincerely wish the club a very successful future and have no regrets about being associated with Oldham Athletic over the past few seasons, but feel our continued support would be sending out the wrong message," the company said in a statement.

The company added that although Evans should be able to live without further punishment after serving his sentence, "this should not be within the public domain where his previous behavior may influence the next generation."

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Restaurant chain Nando's, known for its Peri Peri chicken, also said the controversy surrounding Evans has led them to end their sponsorship of the English soccer team, based in the north west of the country.

"Re Oldham signing: we'd have liked to continue our involvement with fan prizes at matches but feel we can no longer continue our association," Nando's said in a tweet.

It is not clear whether these sponsors would return to the club if the Evans signing falls through.

Sponsor threats

Other sponsors, such as bingo chain Mecca Bingo, have threatened to leave the club if the deal is finalized.

"We can confirm (we) will be ending our association with @OfficialOAFC if they sign Ched Evans," the company said on Twitter.

And product supply company ZenOffice threatened to do the same.

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"ZenOffice do not agree that the current path OAFC are embarking on espouses these values," the office supply company said in a statement. "Therefore it is with much regret, that ZenOffice would like to confirm that we will end our association with Oldham Athletic Football Club if the move goes ahead to sign Ched Evans."

Sports Direct, the retailer owned by sports entrepreneur Mike Ashley, is the main sponsor of Oldham and if it cut ties, the move could financially cripple the club. When contacted by CNBC, Sports Direct said it had no comment on the situation.

Remedian IT and services company Safeguard group, two other sponsors of Oldham, also had no comment to make, along with car dealership Pentagon and radio station Revolution 96.2.

There was huge public backlash when Oldham initially expressed an interest in hiring Evans. An online petition was started urging the club not to go through with the deal and now has over 50,000 signatures. The woman that Evans raped changed her name and had to move five times after she was abused on social media.