London: The manager of English third-tier side Oldham Athletic, Lee Johnson, confirmed on Monday that the club`s board was debating whether to sign convicted rapist Ched Evans.
Evans, a former Wales international, was released from prison in October after serving half of a five-year sentence for the rape of a 19-year-old woman at a North Wales hotel in May 2011.
British media reports on Sunday claimed that League One side Oldham were considering offering the 26-year-old striker a route back into the game and Johnson`s remarks confirmed that talks were ongoing.
"I understand these are very difficult circumstances. I respect that for everyone. It`s a board decision," he told a scrum of reporters outside the club`s Boundary Park home.
News of Oldham`s reported interest in Evans sparked an immediate backlash in the local area, with 20,000 people signing an online petition against the signing and a major club sponsor threatening to withdraw support.
Asked if the board had therefore decided against signing Evans, Johnson added: "I don`t want to comment. Whatever the board decides, I will be a part of."
One of Oldham`s main sponsors, Verlin Rainwater Solutions, said it would end its involvement with the club if they signed Evans.
Evans`s former club Sheffield United allowed him to train with them last year at the request of British players` union the Professional Footballers` Association (PFA).
But they withdrew their offer in November after a backlash from fans, sponsors and club patrons, with over 165,000 people signing a petition against it.
PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor has said that his organisation will support any club that decide to sign Evans, but he is wary of the outcry it would create.
"I don`t want to create a replica-type situation that we had at Sheffield because I`m a little bit concerned that we need a press conference and that will invite, of course, many antagonists," Taylor said.
Evans came through the youth ranks at Manchester City and joined Sheffield United in 2009 for a fee of £3 million ($4.6 million, 3.8 million euros).
He scored 48 goals in 113 games for Sheffield United and has made 13 appearances for Wales, scoring once.
Evans maintains his innocence, and an investigation into his conviction by Britain`s Criminal Cases Review Commission is ongoing.
Oldham have previously offered a contract to a player who has served a jail sentence, having signed striker Lee Hughes in 2007 after he served half of a six-year prison term for causing death by dangerous driving.