WMACA launches athletes against child abuse initiative

David Isaacson Sports reporter
Former tennis star and child rapist Bob Hewitt.
Former tennis star and child rapist Bob Hewitt.

Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) on Thursday officially launched its athletes wing‚ which is fronted by one of the victims who helped put disgraced tennis star Bob Hewitt behind bars.

Olivia Jasriel is already dealing with cases involving allegations of abuse in netball‚ swimming and water polo‚ along with co-founder Debbie Wade‚ who herself is fighting for justice in an historical case against a man who is now a swimming coach.

Describing the trauma of the case against Hewitt‚ and subsequently opposing his parole‚ an emotional Jasriel said the fight for justice for victims was not easy.

“One of my personal goals is to make sure there is no parole for … I have made a commitment to myself and every child athlete to do this. I know it’s going to be a difficult journey and I’m not taking this challenge on lightly …

“Sweeping it under the carpet is not okay‚ turning a blind eye is not okay. We want every coach‚ parent and teacher to know that we are watching them. I only wanted to play tennis.”

Miranda Jordan‚ founder of WMACA‚ said the addition of the WMACA athletes against child abuse wing was a logical move.

“We have identified through the many years and increasingly lately that there’s a very big problem within the sporting arena‚ both current and historical cases of sexual abuse and it makes complete sense … that we move in the direction of specialised initiatives‚ the very first of this being child abuse in sport.”

WMACA advocacy manager Luke Lamprecht said sport systems made it even easier for coaches to get away with abuse of children.

“The problem with elite sport in particular is the fact that … there’s a sense of access to privilege and power … which allows coaches who are almost godlike in the lives of these children and parents … to get away with things that ordinarily would not be got away with by any other profession.

“The main reason we’re coming together as a group of sports people and child protectors is to say sport has additional risks associated with it for the abuse of children. They are career offenders that choose jobs that give them access to children and in addition to that they use the position of power and privilege to maintain secrecy.

“And the [incentive] to keep the secrecy when you’re gaining bursaries or access to potential national squads etc is just so high and we never want children to have to trade off their wellbeing and their safety for places in elite sports teams.”

The initiative has been supported by several SA sports stars‚ retired and current‚ including Olympic breaststroke queen Penny Heyns‚ Bafana Bafana legend Benni McCarthy‚ Springboks Beast Mtawarira and Corne Krige‚ cricketer Tabraiz Shamsi and kayaker Bridgitte Hartley.

He pointed out that due to slow administrative procedures‚ it could take years for a school or other employers of coaches to check if a person was on the child protection register.

A further problem was the register only included offenders of sexual abuse‚ and not all offenders of other types of child abuse.

Jasriel said it took more than 30 years from the time she was raped as a girl for Hewitt to get justice. Then she had to pay for herself to get to Gqeberha to fight his parole‚ which first came up two years in his six-year sentence.

“He was denied that parole. Less than a year later he was granted parole and I fought it again and the decision was overturned on a technicality around my constitutional rights.

“In March 2020‚ two days before our country entered into lockdown‚ I had to sit in a room with him at St Alban’s prison and watch how a remorseless‚ unrehabilitated‚ unaccountable paedophile jumped up and down like he’d just won Wimbledon because he’d been granted parole …

“He was granted parole despite the verbal abuse that was allowed to be hurled at me by him and his team during the hearing.”

Jasriel described her experience as a victim in the SA judicial system as “horrific”.

“The trauma I have suffered as a result of speaking out and speaking my truth has been indescribable.

“I received death threats‚ my son’s life was threatened‚ I lost my family‚ it was probably the loneliest time of my life. The emotional and financial cost was huge because our constitution is certainly not victim-centric‚ it’s completely perpetrator-centric as are the unwritten rules in the sporting community‚ we have sadly discovered.”

This is what she’s fighting against.