Editor’s note: This story contains details that may be disturbing for some readers.
Former Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill has said it was “shocking and upsetting” to read that her former coach had been banned for life by the UK Athletics Board for engaging in sexually inappropriate behaviour.
Toni Minichiello, 56, was provisionally suspended last year pending an investigation into complaints and on Tuesday a panel found he had made inappropriate sexual references and gestures to athletes.
The panel added that he also failed to respect the athletes’ right to a private life by making intrusive enquiries and comments about their personal lives and engaged in unwanted sexual contact.
Ennis-Hill worked with Minichiello when she won gold in the heptathlon at London 2012 and also when she won her three world titles.
“Reading the news today about my former coach Toni Minichiello, it is both shocking and upsetting,” she wrote in a statement posted on Instagram.
“The allegations are awful and although I was never on the receiving end of any sexual physical behaviour, any such inappropriate behaviour or language has no place in any coaching or work environment.
“Everyone should feel safe from any form of physical or mental abuse.”
Minichiello engaged in inappropriate and sometimes aggressive behaviour, bullying as well as emotional abuse, the panel said.
In a statement, Minichiello strongly denied all the charges made against him and said he had not been treated fairly.
“I cannot fully express my disappointment with this decision and with UK Athletics’ unfair handling of this process. I strongly deny all the charges made against me,” he said.
“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.”
The panel found that the coach had made inappropriate comments about athletes’ relationships and boyfriends, had asked an athlete whether she had ever had sex while doing weights and had told an athlete that she would “never get married” and “never have kids.”
Minichiello was found to have mimicked sexual activity with three athletes, touched an athlete’s breasts and commented on and touched another athlete’s breasts, while he was also found to have placed an athlete in a corner with a cone on her head as a dunce’s cap.
UK Athletics said that the findings were “of the utmost seriousness” and constituted “a gross breach of trust by Minichiello.”
As his coaching license had expired during the process, Minichiello couldn’t be suspended or sanctioned but UK Athletics said they wouldn’t accept any future applications for a coaching licence from him.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.