Toni Minichiello, the famed coach who guided Jessica Ennis-Hill to Olympic glory, has effectively been banned from athletics for life after being found to have engaged in sexually inappropriate behaviour, emotional abuse and bullying over a 15-year period.
Minichiello was suspended last year pending an investigation, following a number of complaints from athletes and coaches, and UK Athletics have now confirmed that the 56-year-old will not be allowed to return to the sport as a coach “in perpetuity”.
The body said the findings of a disciplinary panel were “of the utmost seriousness” and included a number of “breaches of trust by Mr Minichiello which have had severe consequences for the mental health and mental wellbeing of the athletes under his charge”.
In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Minichiello, who mentored Ennis-Hill to Olympic gold in 2012 and silver in 2016, as well as three world titles, said he strongly denied all charges made against him.
Listing its findings, UK Athletics said the coach had been proven to have:
Made inappropriate sexual references and gestures to athletes;
Failed to respect the athletes right to a private life by making intrusive enquiries and personal comments about their personal lives;
Engaged in sexually physical behaviour, namely inappropriate and unwanted touching of athletes to whom he owed a duty of care;
Engaged in inappropriate and sometimes aggressive behaviour, bullying and emotional abuse.
Going on to detail some specific proven charges, the report claimed Minichiello had regularly referred to his penis as his “spicy Italian sausage” and warned one athlete she could “suck my ****” if she did not continue training. It says Minichiello also mimicked sexual activity towards multiple athletes and touched another’s breasts. All of the athletes in the report are anonymised.
The investigation also alleges that Minichiello made inappropriate comments about athletes’ private relationships and told one she would “never get married” and “never have kids”, while the same athlete was in one instance made to “sit in a corner with a cone on her head as a Dunce’s cap”.
Minichiello’s coaching licence expired during the course of his suspension, meaning UK Athletics are unable to suspend or sanction him, but the body says it will “not entertain any future application”.
“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,” it added. “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.
“Should Mr Minichiello wish to apply for a Coach Licence in the future, the matter will ultimately be subject to an appeal before the relevant body under UKA Rules.
“UKA will share the outcome of this adjudication and decision relating to any future licence application with both UK Sport and the AIU for their awareness.”
In his response, Minichiello acknowledged that he had been “robust and demanding” across the course of a 30-year coaching career but insisted he had never “behaved inappropriately towards any of my athletes” and bemoaned UKA’s “unfair handling of this process”.
“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,” Minichiello said in a statement.
He continued: “From the beginning, I cooperated with UK Athletics and the appointed Independent Investigator. Unfortunately, the investigation was one-sided. For example, I offered to provide UK Athletics with the names and contact details of 80-witnesses, including my then current training group. UK Athletics declined the list of those witnesses.
“While repeatedly requesting details as to how the investigation was being conducted, this was only provided by UK Athletics in a witness statement shortly before the hearing of this matter, over a year after my provisional suspension, raising serious questions regarding my ability to gain a fair hearing.
“Similarly, the tribunal failed to engage properly with the available evidence. For example, one of the most serious allegations was said to have taken place when I was, as a matter of fact, in a different country to the person making the allegations. The tribunal refused to admit my evidence on this point and found against me as a result.
“There were many instances of witnesses providing suspiciously similar answers to questions, including demonstrably incorrect ones, suggestive of collusion; again, the tribunal failed to appropriately address their minds to the important issue of collusion which was evident throughout significant parts of the evidence.
“There were also instances of witnesses breaching confidentiality to speak to each other during the course of the investigation, which the tribunal failed to address.
“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.
“I would like to show my appreciation to the witnesses who came forward to support me, and also give my appreciation and complete understanding to the witnesses who wished to come forward to support me but were unable to do so being concerned by the possibility of negative repercussions for their future careers.”