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Calls for Federal Government to close sporting loopholes to protect children from paedophiles

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One of the sports named in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has called on the Federal Government to close a loophole that could affect child safety.

Tennis NSW chief executive Lawrence Robertson said local governments that lease out infrastructure such as tennis courts to clubs and coaches might not be demanding working with children checks, which could be putting children at risk.

“It’s a little bit like providing a licence to run a kindergarten — a community service — but then not asking for any oversight on who’s running it,” he said.

Mr Robertson said there were council-run tennis venues that were not affiliated with his organisation and coaches without Tennis Australia qualifications that might not have done working with children checks.

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“We know that sport — and particularly those one-on-one sports likes tennis — there is a risk when you have a coach and an individual on court together,” he said.

“These are high-risk scenarios for young children.

“There are holes to the delivery of sport and in particular to ensuring we are providing a safe environment for our children to participate in sport.

Tennis NSW this week became the first sporting governing body in Australia to sign up to the National Redress Scheme that was set up in the wake of the report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The state organisation was named in the 2016 Royal Commission report over the abuse of a 15-year-old girl by a tennis coach in 1997.

Mr Robertson said Tennis NSW felt it was important to sign up to the National Redress Scheme before the deadline at the end of this month.

“We felt that it was really an important step in acknowledging the mistakes of the past,” he said.

But Mr Robertson warned sports and governments needed to close the potentially dangerous loophole around local governments who might not be protecting children.

Junior sport vulnerable

Mr Robertson said Tennis NSW demanded all volunteers and accredited tennis coaches at clubs to have working with children checks.

But he said some local councils might not be asking for those checks.

“We remain concerned that there are councils out there who are leasing or licencing courts to tennis organisations or directly to tennis coaches that have no oversight on their suitability, whether that be working with children checks, police checks and so on,” he said.

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Child Safeguard says working with children checks are a priority in junior sport.

Mr Robertson said all grassroots sports were potentially vulnerable.

“This may be the case for netball, for swimming, for gymnastics, where so many of our sporting facilities are owned by our local government and they have historically asked volunteer bodies to provide a community service,” he said.

“We’ve seen what happened with USA Gymnastics,” Mr Robertson added, referring to the widespread sexual abuse of young girls by coaches and staff in the United States.

The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is currently holding an inquiry into safety in Australian gymnastics.

The lawyer representing many past and present gymnasts who claim to have suffered abuse, Adair Donaldson, said: “loopholes will be exploited by paedophiles, so anything we do to ensure the safety of children is a no-brainer.”

A female gymnast puts chalk on her feet.
Australian gymnastics is the subject of an Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquiry.(AAP: Julian Smith)

Tennis NSW is calling on the Federal Government to work with local councils and all sports to protect children who might be preyed on by people who do not have a working with children check.

“We believe there should be a national register of qualified coaches across all sports,” Mr Robertson said.

Mr Robertson also proposed local governments only lease out infrastructure to organisations that are affiliated with sport governing bodies.

“They hold the licence to allow grassroots sport access to playing fields, access to tennis courts, access to gym halls,” he said.

The Tennis NSW proposals have been welcomed by Mr Donaldson.

“That’s an incredibly proactive and sensible approach that is being taken,” he said.

“And that is the type of response that you will hope will be coming from an institution in the wake of the royal commission.”

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