Gymnastics clubs have a year to meet new child protection safeguards, but is that too long a wait?

Gymnastics New Zealand has introduced a new child protection policy. Picture: STUFF SPORTS.

Gymnastics clubs have 12 months to “meet the expectations” of a new child protection policy released by the sport’s governing body, but that time frame is too long, according to a leading child protection expert.

The Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy was sent to clubs and members by Gymnastics New Zealand chief executive Tony Compier, along with a memo outlining the expectations on the community on Monday.

The memo outlines that clubs must have an up-to-date protection policy in place, and all coaches and those holding “other key club roles” must undergo a “basic level” of child protection training.

Clubs are also expected to have at least one “child safeguarding representative” to whom concerns can be raised. Police vetting of “all coaches both new and existing” is set to continue and will be carried out every three years.

Several policies – including the child protection policy – were removed from the Gymnastics New Zealand website in November while “under review”.

Stuff understands the new policies were due for release first in late November, then in early December, but were delayed as the organisation worked with external parties.

New policies on whistle-blowing, physical contact, travel, communications and imagery are due in the coming months.

While Safeguarding Children chief executive Willow Duffy is “pleased to see the progress of Gymnastics New Zealand” is making, she said change is not moving fast enough. Safeguarding Children is a charity that provides of child protection education.

”I have fed back to Gymnastics New Zealand, that in my opinion, that time frame is too long,” she said.

”It doesn’t reflect the strong message of commitment to the safeguarding of children and young people set out in the policy.”

But Compier said the time-frame is a “continuum” and the organisation will work with clubs to implement the required changes.

“Due to the differences in both what is required from the policy, and resource capability within clubs to meet it, the time line for implementing elements needs to be on a continuum,” he said.

“This does not prevent those clubs who can from implementing elements at any time during this continuum. We will actively encourage and support those clubs who can to do so during the 12 months, and beyond if needed.

“The approach in working with clubs to implement policy needs to a collaborative, supportive and informative one.”

Safeguarding Children also designed the child protection modules being recommended to the gymnastics community by Gymnastics New Zealand.

The modules are part of the community sport portal, which offers policies, procedures and e-learning modules designed to increase awareness, understanding and capability of managing integrity matters, and was part of a broader integrity announcement by Sport New Zealand in December 2020.

Duffy said Gymnastics New Zealand is ahead of the curve and said the organisations started working together in January 2020 – and before Stuff’s investigation into the sport’s “insidious culture” was first released – following a review that identified the sports body had a need for child protection and safeguarding training and guidance.

“We worked with them in the same way we would work with any organisation, and that is to provide training for the key people within the organisation so that they have a greater insight into child abuse,” Duffy said.

 

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