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9 Aug, 2022 16:17

Athletics coach hit with life ban for ‘sexually inappropriate behavior’

Toni Minichiello led Jessica Ennis-Hill to gold at the London 2012 summer Olympics
Athletics coach hit with life ban for ‘sexually inappropriate behavior’

Toni Minichiello, who coached Jessica Ennis-Hill to a gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics, has received a lifetime ban from UK Athletics after it found he carried out sexually inappropriate behavior in addition to emotional abuse and bullying. 

UK Athletics said that the findings brought forward by a disciplinary panel were "of the utmost seriousness" in a statement.

Furthermore, they also included gross breaches of trust which severely affected the mental health and wellbeing of some of Minichiello's athletes, though Ennis-Hill isn't believed to have been one of them.

Minichiello was suspended last year while the investigation was carried out. It was launched due to complaints from multiple female athletes and coaches, and found that over a 15-year period, Minichiello made inappropriate sexual references and gestures to female athletes, including mimicking "female genitalia and oral sex" and told an athlete to "suck my ****" while frequently referring to his own genitalia as his "spicy Italian sausage."

Minichiello also failed to respect athletes' privacy and made intrusive inquiries about their personal lives including once asking an athlete if she'd "ever had sex while doing weights".

Minichiello also engaged in sexually physical behavior with his victims, such as inappropriate and unwanted touching of female athletes in his care including "dry humping" to mimic sexual intercourse and touching two athletes' breasts. 

His behavior was sometimes aggressive as well, and included bullying and emotional abuse such as making one female athlete sit with a cone on top of her head to represent a "dunce's hat".

UK Athletics said that such incidents amounted "to a large number of breaches of the UKA coach licence terms over a 15-year period" and constituted "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".

Due to Minichiello's coaching license having already expired, the organization wasn't able to suspend or sanction him. As the allegations were so serious, however, they guaranteed that the 56-year-old will never coach again.

"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," UK Athletics noted, adding that it 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 license".

UK Athletics acknowledged that other allegations made against Minichiello were unproven. In a statement, he denied any wrongdoing and claimed to have been untreated fairly by the body.

"I cannot fully express my disappointment with this decision and with UK Athletics’ unfair handling of this process," Minichiello said.

"I strongly deny all the charges made against me. 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 continued by saying that it was "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," he accepted, concluding that he does not believe he has been "treated fairly in this instance".

For his work with Ennis-Hill, who he coached from the age of 13 in their shared hometown of Sheffield, Minichiello received accolades such as Coach of the Year presented by the Princess Royal and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Coach award both in 2012.

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