FOOTBALLERS like convicted rapist Ched Evans should not be held up as role models because they are from the “lower classes”, an academic has claimed.

Professional sportsmen are more inclined to criminality because they tend to be young, male and lower class, former University of Brighton visiting Professor Lincoln Allison said.

The controversial academic, who has previously suggested athletes should be allowed to dope, said he empathised with “bullied” Evans and defended the lack of remorse he had shown over the rape.

The director of a Brighton rape crisis centre hit back, calling Prof Allison an “uninformed rape apologist” and said she was left physically shaking by his comments.

Former Sheffield United footballer Evans was convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel in Wales in 2011. He was released from prison on licence in November 2014 but has continued to maintain his innocence and only apologised “for the effects” of his actions yesterday.

The debate over whether he should be allowed back into professional football was held on BBC Radio Sussex yesterday.

Prof Allison said: “If you believe yourself to be innocent it would be ridiculous to show contrition.

“In that sense I have empathy with him because he has always said he didn’t do it.”

He added: “Professional sportsman, consisting of young males, often from the lower classes or the lower strata, actually have far higher rates of criminality than the population as a whole.

“So this general expectation that they should be exemplars to us is simply a throwback to days when England rugby fullbacks were surgeons and stayed up all night saving lives. It is not a reasonable expectation of modern sportsmen.” Prof Allison added it would be “ridiculous” to allow the conviction to ruin Evans’ career.

He cited examples of footballers Tony Adams and George Best who served prison sentences during their careers, Adams for drink driving and Best for assaulting a police officer and drink driving.

Fabia Bates, director of Survivors Network, said: “The thing that concerns me about Professor Allison’s remarks is that he seems to be saying there are better or worse cases of rape... and this is somehow a crime that’s not as serious as others.

“What he’s doing... is perpetuating myths in society around rape... and to me that’s exceptionally dangerous.”

On Evans she said: “I think he doesn’t understand what rape is.”

On Twitter afterwards she described Prof Allison as an “uninformed rape apologist”.