The International Tennis Hall of Fame has begun an investigation into claims of sexual abuse by one of its members, doubles legend Bob Hewitt, the organisation's executive director said on Tuesday.
The decision signalled a reversal by the Newport, Rhode Island-based organisation, which abandoned earlier plans to investigate the allegations, made by several women, and said it would focus instead on forging a policy to deal with such issues.
The Hall of Fame hired the New England law firm of Hinckley, Allen & Snyder to conduct an inquiry and report back to its executive committee, said Mark Stenning, the organisation's chief executive.
The Hall of Fame became aware of the allegations, including charges that Hewitt sexually abused and harassed young women he taught years ago in the United States and South Africa, when they were reported by The Boston Globe last year, he said.
A former federal prosecutor, Michael Connolly, is handling the investigation and "talking with a number of people who are situated all over the world," Stenning said.
"We don't have an exact date of completion, but we hope it will be very soon," he said. "At that point, the executive committee will decide whether any action should be taken against Mr. Hewitt."
Hewitt, 72, a top-ranked tennis player in the 1960s and 1970s, was born in Australia and later became a resident of South Africa, according to the Hall of Fame's website.
He won men's or mixed doubles titles at all four major tennis championships, including Wimbledon, the US and French opens, and the Australian Championship, the site said.
A woman quoted as saying Hewitt had sex with her in the 1970s when she was 15 did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment. A telephone number for Hewitt could not be found.
Stenning, the Hall of Fame chief executive, said: "In hindsight, we could have handled it much more swiftly ... Within the last few weeks we decided an inquiry was the right thing to do."