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The Southland Times
September 26 2006

Gymnasts 'target of deviants'
by Nathan Burdon

Respected Invercargill gymnastics judge, coach and organiser Colin McMullien admits the sport has long been a target for paedophiles in New Zealand and overseas.

The issue has been brought to the public eye with Gymnastics New Zealand (GNZ) making spectators register and label their cameras and cellphone cameras during this week's national championships in Christchurch, where 10 Southland gymnasts will be competing, because of concerns about paedophiles. McMullien, who will be judging in Christchurch this week, said one of his unofficial roles at gymnastics events was ensuring there were no suspicious people in the crowd.

"We do encounter the odd strange fellow in gymnastics," McMullien said.

"I've spoken to (alleged paedophiles) before at camps. At a camp in Christchurch I was asked to speak to one guy and he got the message."

GNZ's camera protocol was based on a ruling brought in by the sport's international body, McMullien said.

McMullien has been helping organise the Southland primary schools Gymfest, an event that is run under the banner of the Department of Education and was therefore not subject to the GNZ ruling, for the past 22 years.

McMullien said he had not encountered any problems at Gymfest, but other gymnastics events in Southland had attracted unsavoury characters.

He has also been alerted about offenders by Invercargill district court staff in the past.

The limiting of cameras and cellphone cameras at children's sports events is something that is yet to become common practice in Southland, according to sports officials spoken to yesterday. Synchro Swim New Zealand's national championships were completed at Invercargill's Splash Palace yesterday and meeting organiser Michelle Anderson said the sport was aware of the issue.

A similar process to the gymnastics protocol had been used at synchro meets in Australia.

"We talked about it at the coaches and managers meeting at the start of the nationals. There are some children who don't want to be photographed because of privacy issues," Anderson said.

Swimming New Zealand spokesman Ian Hepenstall was not aware of any limitations on cameras being allowed into national events in his sport.

At venues used for major meetings, there were restrictions on who was allowed poolside, and that included only accredited photographers. Southland secondary schools regional sports director Brenda Pannett said she was not aware of any issues involving a leering element at children's sports events in the south.

A conference for regional sports directors was being held in Wellington this week and Pannett said it would be interesting to see if the issue was raised there.

A spokeswoman at Stadium Southland said the venue had no specific protocols regarding the use of cameras, although it could be looked at on a sport-specific basis.