PARIS: A former tennis coach in France was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison on Friday for raping young students at his academy, ending a seven-year legal case that began when a former ranked player published a book describing years of abuse at his hands.
The court in Lyon also barred 70-year-old Regis de Camaret from working in tennis for life.
The case against Camaret began in 2005 with accusations from former ranked player Isabelle Demongeot, who wrote a book describing years of abuse. Several other women later came forward with accusations that Camaret raped or sexually abused them when they trained in the 1980s and 1990s.
The statute of limitations had run out for most of the accusers, but he was tried based on complaints by two former players.
Camaret has denied all the accusations against him, insisting that the atmosphere at his academy was "conducive to flings," the Sipa news agency reported.
Former No.3-ranked player Nathalie Tauziat testified on his behalf at the trial.
Tears flowed among some former trainees after the verdict came down.
"Well, finally, tonight, he's in prison," said an emotional Isabelle Demongeot, who was once ranked No.2 within France, and whose case was beyond the statute of limitations. "We are all very moved, and drained."
Karine Pomares and Stephanie Carrouget — the two civil parties to the state's case and who testified — exchanged long hugs, crying.
"We didn't let it all out for nothing," Carrouget said, according to Sipa. The Associated Press doesn't generally identify accusers in sexual assault cases unless they agree to be named or identify themselves publicly.
Defence lawyer Emmanuel Daoud said that the case amounted to "a trial by proxy" and argued that critics had wanted Camaret to pay for crimes beyond the statute of limitations: "I don't call that justice."
However, Daoud never rejected the accusations filed against his client, saying to Camaret — who cried repeatedly — during the proceedings: "Regis, you failed your moral obligations."
The court showed clemency compared to the prosecutors' request for a 10- to 12-year prison sentence. The defence team wanted the case dismissed, arguing that Camaret should be given the benefit of the doubt. Investigating judges had initially tried to throw out the case for a lack of evidence — before state prosecutors appealed that decision.