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Coaches Put Under The Microscope

THE CASTLEMAINE Football Club will introduce mandatory police checks on all junior coaches.
The decision follows a former local sporting coach being found guilty of molested 23 young boys.
Robert James O'Neill, 60, was last week sentenced to 15 years and two months jail for offences which he committed as a football and basketball trainer in Castlemaine, between 1972 and 1996.
Yesterday, Castlemaine Football Club, one of a number of clubs O'Neill was previously involved with, announced it would introduce compulsory police checks on all prospective junior coaches and assistants.
The club has also implemented strategies to inform players of its child protection policy and reporting procedures.
Vice-president Maurie Crooke said the police checks would be introduced in 2005 for those undertaking a direct coaching role in both the football and netball club.
Mr Crooke said while none of the present committee were involved in the club at the time of O'Neill's presence, there was an obligation to help ensure the protection of young players.
"We can't be responsible for his actions, but now we are there we will do all we can to ensure young people are in a safe, healthy and secure environment." There will be none of this business about growing up with it (sexual abuse) and coming out about it many years later - there's has got to be an avenue for young people to report it." The proactive measure has been welcomed by sporting authorities as well as the region's Centre Against Sexual Assault.
CASA specialist children's counsellor for the Loddon Campaspe region Andie Holland said the move was an important step in helping keep children safe from sexual abuse.
"They are setting a precedent which I think every sports group should follow," she said.
"People who are planning to offend against children set themselves up in trusted positions - such as the sports coach, where they have access to children.
"This is a fantastic preventative measure which would hopefully make people think twice." Sports Focus Loddon Campaspe programs manager Shelley Mulqueen said she expected police checks within junior sporting clubs would become a growing practice.
"The cost is an issue for clubs, but in terms of risk management, it is the only way forward," she said.
"Sporting clubs are the hub of communities in small towns and we would like them to be considered safe places." A state government spokesman said while Netball Victoria had police checks in place, the move by Castlemaine Football Club could be a first in terms of football clubs.

AAP (23-11-2004)

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