Johannesburg - A children's rights group on Friday welcomed the suspension of former South African tennis great Bob Hewitt from the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
“WMACA [Women and Men Against Child Abuse] applauds the Hall of Fame whose decision reflects that children's rights must be protected at all times,” spokesman Luke Lamprecht said in a statement.
Hall of Fame chief executive Mark Stenning told The Associated Press (AP) the hall's executive committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to suspend Hewitt indefinitely.
An outside investigation deemed credible the allegations of multiple women who said Hewitt, 72, abused them as underage girls while he was coaching them decades ago.
AP reported that Hewitt's plaque in the enshrinement hall and other references to him at the hall, and on the hall's website, were removed on Thursday.
It was reported in July of this year that the Hall of Fame would investigate allegations against the 1992 inductee after six women publicly identified themselves as Hewitt's alleged victims. “His legacy ceases to exist in the Hall of Fame,” Stenning said.
The Hall of Fame had stopped short of expelling Hewitt, as he had not been convicted of a crime.
The WMACA demanded that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) immediately act on the charges levelled against Hewitt. The women opened cases against him 16 months ago.
“Hewitt is finally being held accountable by his sports contemporaries for his actions, and for the lifelong damaging effect, and robbing young girls of their innocence,” Lamprecht said.
Suellen Sheehan, who publicly accused Hewitt of raping her as a nine-year-old, said she was liberated by the Hall of Fame's decision.
“This is an awesome day, the liberation I feel right now from something that happened to me 30 years ago is indescribable, and the emotion is overwhelming,” Sheehan told the WMACA on Thursday.
Lamprecht said Hewitt's ousting ended decades of inaction by the international tennis community, particularly in South Africa.
Officials acknowledged, according to Lamprecht, they had been informed long ago of the allegations against Hewitt.
“We eagerly await feedback from the police and NPA with regard to progress, following the Hall of Fame's decision,” he said.