Former cheerleaders are sickened to learn a convicted paedophile was allowed to coach young athletes at their Auckland gym and several have now approached police.
The cheerleaders claim they were misled about the predator's sexual offending and told not to post photos of him at the gym on social media to protect him.
One young woman said the man was "good at manipulating us" and made them feel sorry for him about his time behind bars.
The Herald revealed last week that Cheer Dynamix gym owner Andrei Coman had knowingly hired child sex offender Nikola Michael Marinovich at six cheerleading events between 2016 and 2018, which was labelled "morally reprehensible" by the sport's national governing body.
In a statement Coman justified the decision by saying he was an "equal opportunity" employer who did not want to discriminate against someone on the basis of prior convictions.
He admitted this was wrong and apologised to athletes and their parents, saying in hindsight he should have prioritised the safety of his young students.
Several former Cheer Dynamix athletes have now spoken out about their time at the Papakura gym, claiming Marinovich was a close friend of Coman's and regular fixture at training sessions.
They claim Marinovich was left alone to coach at least one session in 2018, which included girls as young as 13 or 14.
They also believe they were misled about the extent of Marinovich's criminal background and had no idea he'd sexually abused several underage girls after plying them with alcohol and drugs.
"It honestly makes me feel sick," one former cheerleader told the Herald.
She said athletes were aware Marinovich had been in prison, but claimed his offending was downplayed - they were told he was "screwed over" by a former girlfriend's parents after the relationship soured.
After Marinovich was jailed in 2013, Coman posted on a Facebook group that his friend and former West Auckland Total Cheerleading colleague needed support because the allegations against him were false.
But Coman now appears to have accepted Marinovich's guilt, telling the Herald his 2013 Facebook comments were "deeply misguided".
He quoted comments by anti sexual violence experts that paedophiles often recruited allies "to say what a nice guy he is".
"How very true that is," Coman told the Herald. "I'm devastated I didn't see what he was capable of."
Marinovich - who the Herald revealed had worked on children's TV show What Now after his release and a raft other children's events as a freelance cameraman - pleaded guilty last week to seven counts of possessing, making and distributing thousands of graphic child sex abuse images and videos following a Customs probe.
Investigators also found a large collection of girls' underwear, school uniforms and cheerleading outfits in Marinovich's bedroom.
He was remanded in custody and will be sentenced next month.
The former Cheer Dynamix athlete told the Herald she believed Marinovich had filmed many cheerleading events involving young girls.
"Now it's like what has he done with that footage? It makes me so sick."
She claimed Coman told cheerleaders not to post photos on social media of Marinovich at the gym.
She now felt lied to and manipulated.
"We were all really impressionable at that time. We had one goal which was to get to the worlds [cheerleading competition] and we were vulnerable to those lies and manipulation.
In her opinion: "Nik wasn't okay and [Coman] shouldn't have put us all in that environment with him because we were unsafe."
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Another athlete claimed Marinovich attended several cheerleading events shortly after his release from prison in 2013, which was likely in breach of his parole conditions not to associate with children.
"Parents were aware of the charges that Nik had, but everyone in the club was conditioned to turn a blind eye to stuff in order to achieve their, or their child's dreams - competing at a high level in cheerleading."
A third athlete said Marinovich attended social events at the Cheer Dynamix gym involving cheerleaders where alcohol was available.
Coman's equal opportunity explanation for hiring Marinovich was laughable, the athlete said.
"It's not like it's a race thing. He's a paedophile and you're putting him with children."
At least two former cheerleaders have now taken their concerns to police following the Herald's coverage.
Police refused to comment, citing privacy.
In a statement, Coman said Marinovich had appeared to be working hard to reintegrate himself as a good and contributing member of the community.
"Clearly he was not."
Coman said he'd never received any complaints about Marinovich of inappropriate behaviour towards Cheer Dynamix athletes and was not aware of any police complaints.
Coman said Marinovich had not filmed any events associated with Coman's company CheerSport NZ, and only ever worked for him as a "technician".
"I am confident there has been no wrongdoing."