New Zealand cheerleading is in turmoil after a high level review found a gym owner had likely "covered up" a convicted paedophile's background so the sex predator could secure work filming young athletes.
The review was commissioned by the New Zealand Cheer Union (NZCU) after the Herald revealed the organisation had hired disgraced coach Nikola Michael Marinovich as a freelance cameraman at two national competitions after his release from prison.
The review recommends sweeping changes to the sport's fragmented hierarchy to protect children and identifies an "individual" as responsible for engaging Marinovich and "likely covering up the extent of his previous offending".
But the individual, Cheer Dynamix owner Andrei Coman, has hit back. He denies covering anything up and blames the union for not doing its own due diligence.
"I am in no way responsible for Marinovich's actions or his employment by NZCU."
The report has also been labelled a whitewash by rival cheerleading body the New Zealand Cheerleading Association (NZCA), which accuses union officials of minimising their own culpability.
Marinovich, 34, was jailed this month for three and a half years after admitting possessing, making and distributing thousands of graphic child sex image and video files.
He was also jailed in 2013 for sexually abusing three underage girls he met through his now defunct West Auckland gym Total Cheerleading.
Though Marinovich's background was well known to many in the sport, he was hired by the NZCU to film two national competitions – once while on bail for the child exploitation charges.
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Union chair Selena Duncan admits she was aware Marinovich had been to prison, but is adamant she did not know the extent of his offending until alerted by the Herald earlier this year.
Duncan commissioned lawyer Michael Smyth to investigate how a paedophile was able to gain further access to young cheerleaders as a freelance videographer.
She would not release the full report, citing privacy concerns, but emailed a summary to the Herald.
It found fragmentation from two national bodies had resulted in a lack of proper functioning, with no uniform rules for affiliated gyms.
"This allowed an Auckland gym, where Marinovich coached, to be run independently from both the NZCA and NZCU. There were also no rules in place to prevent an event company, which was a member of NZCU, from engaging him as a videographer for cheerleading events."
The report said NZCU did not have adequate child protection or vetting policies in place.
"An individual has been identified as not only being responsible for engaging Marinovich but also likely covering up the extent of his previous offending, so that he could work at New Zealand cheerleading events.
"The individual also did not warn NZCU of [Marinovich's] 2019 charges. NZCU has chosen not to release the name of the event company or individual as it is considering what action it may take in relation to these findings."
Coman is an old friend of Marinovich. He admitted hiring his friend as a freelancer at six cheerleading events run through Coman's company CheerSport NZ between 2016 and 2018, despite knowing about the child sex convictions.
Coman later apologised, saying this was wrong, and that athlete safety should be the priority.
In a written statement, Coman said he had not seen the full Smyth report, but the summary contained "several concerning and misleading inaccuracies".
Coman stressed that Marinovich was never employed as a coach at Cheer Dynamix or videographer at CheerSport NZ events - only as a lighting and sound technician.
He denied covering for Marinovich to help him get work.
"I did not cover anything up. It is the NZCU's responsibility to do their due diligence when hiring someone to work at their own events."
He also questioned the report's independence given it was commissioned and paid for by NZCU.
"NZCU are, of course, entitled to carry out their own investigation but have no legal mandate or legal parameters in which to investigate me or my privately-owned business."
Coman said he had "re-evaluated" his policies and procedures following the Marinovich scandal and implemented "stringent parameters around the people we employ, including freelance contractors".
Meanwhile, the Smyth review recommends a new entity to govern the sport "because of an intense, long-standing rivalry between NZCU and NZCA".
The new body should include all New Zealand cheerleading gyms, athletes, coaches and event companies to ensure the sport had uniform rules and accountability.
It would be responsible for implementing effective child protection and code of conduct policies.
In a statement, the NZCU board backed the recommendations.
"It's a thorough review of how someone like Nikola Marinovich could be involved in our sport, both as a coach and a videographer.
"The report's recommendations also fit with what the International Cheerleading Union has been requesting. We are working with ICU and NZCA to determine our next steps."
However NZCA president Kimberley Ramsay said her organisation already had robust child welfare policies.
In her opinion the report was "a predetermined political PR piece to further the NZCU's agenda".
Athletes and parents now had doubts about joining with the union due to its "role in, conduct during and handling of the sex scandal".
"The investigation should have been based on finding out the truth behind how the NZCU knowingly hired a convicted sexual abuse criminal that put their members' children at risk."
Duncan told the Herald the union had taken accountability.
"We have said we did not have a proper child protection policy or vetting requirements in place at the time. We have admitted that and said that we were wrong and apologised to our members."
The review was conducted independently of the union, which was considering what action to take against the individual identified in the report.