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Children's right group welcomes Hewitt suspension from hall of fame

Sapa

A children's rights group has welcomed the suspension of former South African tennis great Bob Hewitt from the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

In this June 26, 1965 file photo Bob Hewitt competes during a tennis match at Wimbledon, England. (AP)

"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," spokesperson Luke Lamprecht said on Friday.

Hall of Fame CEO Mark Stenning told The Associated Press (AP) the hall's executive committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to indefinitely suspend Hewitt.

An outside investigation deemed credible the allegations of a number of women who claimed 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.

The Weekend Post, in the Eastern Cape, has reported that Hewitt has also been suspended by the South Africa Sports and Arts Hall of Fame (SASAHF).

Indefinitely suspended
"We have followed the [International Tennis Hall of Fame] model in this case," SASAHF general manager Ryan McGee told the newspaper.

"He has been indefinitely suspended, which effectively removes him from the hall, but he has not been expelled. This is because Hewitt has not been convicted of any of the accusations levelled against him."

McGee said Hewitt was the first sportsperson to be suspended by the organisation.

"We will monitor any developments in this issue. A permanent removal from the hall will be considered if there are any developments in terms of a prosecution against Hewitt."

Hewitt's legal representative, Lunen Meyer, told the Weekend Post he was aware of the Hall of Fame decision. He had yet to consult with his client, who is now 72 and lives in Addo.

"What I can tell you though, is that we will be exploring all options and avenues to have this decision overturned."

Held accountable
It was reported in July that the international Hall of Fame would investigate allegations against Hewitt, who was inducted in 1992, after six women publicly identified themselves as his alleged victims.

"His legacy ceases to exist in the Hall of Fame," Stenning said in his statement on Friday.

The Hall of Fame had stopped short of expelling Hewitt, as he has 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 had been liberated by the Hall of Fame's decision.

Decades of inaction
"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.

She told the Weekend Post that the police had contacted her and asked if she wanted the investigation to continue.

"I said yes, I certainly do want it to be completed. The police placed a notice in a Durban newspaper requesting people with information to come forward. I support this and hope this will happen."

Lamprecht said Hewitt's ousting ended decades of inaction by the international tennis community, particularly in South Africa.

According to Lamprecht, officials acknowledged that 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. Sapa

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