London: British 2012 Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill has joined a row over whether a soccer player convicted of rape should be allowed to rejoin his former club after being freed from jail.
The heptathlon champion, from Sheffield in central England, has written to the local club, Sheffield United, to ask that her name be removed from a stand in the club`s home stadium if it re-signs Ched Evans, media reports said on Friday.
An online petition urging Sheffield United not to reinstate the striker has been signed by more than 163,000 people. The petition on change.org, says to even consider reinstating the player "is a deep insult to the woman who was raped and to all women like her who have suffered at the hands of a rapist".
"I believe being a role model to young people is a huge honour and those in positions of influence in communities should respect the role they play in young people`s lives and set a good example," Ennis-Hill said in a statement widely republished by British newspapers and websites.
"If Evans was to be re-signed by the club it would completely contradict these beliefs," she said.
Evans was released from prison last month after serving two-and-a-half years for rape. He denies raping a woman in a hotel in Wales in May 2011, saying the sex was consensual.
In a statement, Evans said his lawyers have referred his case to the Court of Appeal in a bid to clear his name.
Sheffield United gave its permission this week to allow Evans to train at the club.
"The Club recognises that the same justice system that tried, convicted and punished Mr Evans under law also provides for his rehabilitation under law," Sheffield United said in a statement on its website last week.
"The Club rejects the notion that society should seek to impose extrajudicial or post-term penalties on anyone."
The number of rapes reported to police in England and Wales in the year ending in June was the highest in more than a decade, according to the Office of National Statistics. It said 22,116 rapes were reported, up 29 percent on the previous year.
Women`s Aid, a charity campaigning for an end to violence against women and children, has said while it supported "the principle of rehabilitating offenders, and encouraging those who have served their time to reintegrate back into society, an important element of rehabilitation is remorse and taking responsibility, which has not happened in this situation."