A prominent athletics coach has been banned for life after an investigation found he engaged in “sexually physical behaviour” with athletes.
Toni Minichiello, who coached Jessica Ennis-Hill to Olympic heptathlon glory, was deemed to have made inappropriate sexual references.
An independent report found he also made gestures to athletes and engaged in “inappropriate and sometimes aggressive behaviour, bullying and emotional abuse”.
In a statement, he strongly denied all charges made against him.
UK Athletics said the findings, which amount to a large number of breaches of its coach licence terms over a 15-year period, “constitute gross breaches of trust”.
“UKA has considered the matter and decided that these findings are of the utmost seriousness,” a UK Athletics statement read.
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“They constitute gross breaches of trust by Mr Minichiello which have had severe consequences for the mental health and mental wellbeing of the athletes under his charge.
“The issuance of a UKA licence to a coach is essentially a representation on behalf of UKA that the coach in question can be trusted with the athletes under his charge.
“UKA is firmly of the view that there will never be a time in the future at which it would be appropriate to grant that assurance and issue such a licence.
“UKA has decided that it will not entertain any future application made by Mr Minichiello for a UKA coach licence in perpetuity.”
As Minichiello’s coaching licence expired during the disciplinary process, he cannot be suspended or subject to a sanction.
However, the governing body has decided it will not entertain any future application made by Minichiello for a coach licence.
A 'landmark decision'
Heptathlon athlete Louise Hazel, who says she has made complaints about Minichiello in the past, told ITV News this is a “landmark decision” that “needs to be the beginning of something news.”
'This needs to be the beginning of something new'
“I think it sends the message that we are now starting to get on top of the protection of athletes, namely female athletes,” she said.
“I think it’s a landmark decision for UK athletics, but it needs to be the beginning of something new.
"I can’t remember there being a person when I was a competing athlete, competing at the Commonwealth Games, London 2012 and the world championships – there wasn’t a person you could complain to, there wasn’t a person who was going to take that situation all the way through to disciplinary action.”
Hazel said she first warned UK Athletics about Minichiello’s behaviour in 2007, 15 years before he was banned for life.
Hazel is one of a number of female athletes to give evidence to a UKA investigation and the first to go public about Ennis-Hill’s coach.
She told ITV News: “The things that I complained about would’ve seemed minor but looking back if that’d been checked and disciplined then it wouldn’t have spanned 15 years.
“The things that I complained about were back in 2007 and they went unhandled. So as Toni grew in popularity and success, obviously with his affiliation with coaching Jessica, I feel like… the abuse of power got worse.
“I think that today’s judgement sends the message to coaches that this will no longer be the way that we operate. We’re setting a new standard and we won’t accept anything less. We won’t allow our power to be taken away any longer.
“On one hand, you have a certain sense of justice has been delivered and then the other sense is this shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
"I feel for all those young women who had to experience what I experienced, which was a gruelling defence lawyer questioning everything that we testified to. My thoughts are with those young women who were sexually abused and waking up this morning to this news, for me, it was a long time coming.”
Minichiello was named BBC Sports Personality Coach of the Year 10 years ago after guiding Ennis to Olympic glory at London 2012.
What was he found guilty of?
The 56-year-old, who had been the subject of multiple complaints from women in athletics, was found guilty of 11 serious charges by an independent case-management group.
These included mimicking sexual activity and touching an athlete’s breasts.
He also told an athlete she could “suck my ****” if she did not continue to train and “frequently” referred to his penis as “spicy Italian sausage”.
Various other charges were not proven.
Should Minichiello wish to apply for a coach licence in the future, the matter would be subject to an appeal.
What does Minichiello say?
In a lengthy statement, Minichiello strongly denied all of the charges made against him.
“I cannot fully express my disappointment with this decision and with UK Athletics’ unfair handling of this process,” he said.
“I have been a coach for over 30 years and while I have been robust and demanding, I have not behaved inappropriately towards any of my athletes as very many of them would confirm.”
He added: “It is very important that UK Athletics respond quickly and seriously to serious allegations of misconduct, especially when those allegations are made by young people.
“However, those investigations and tribunals need to be conducted carefully, with due process and fairly. I do not believe that I have been treated fairly in this instance.”
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article or by sexual assault, you can contact the following charities:
SARSAS - providing support for victims of sexual abuse or assault, they can be contacted on 0808 801 0456 or 0808 801 0464
Victim Support - offering advice and support to victims of various crimes in England and Wales, they can be contacted on 0808 168 9111