UK Athletics has been accused of ignoring a complaint against disgraced coach Toni Minichiello 15 years before he was banned for sexually inappropriate behaviour.
Olympian and former Commonwealth heptathlon champion Louise Hazel says she reported Minichiello to senior staff at the governing body in 2007only for the problem to be “brushed under the carpet”.
On Tuesday, UK Athletics told Minichiello, who became known as Jessica Ennis-Hill’s trainer, that he will never work in domestic sport again after investigators found he touched two women’s breasts and told another she could “suck me – —” if she didn’t continue training. The charges were prompted by complaints from a number of athletes, although Telegraph Sport understands Ennis-Hill is not one of those involved.
Although Hazel was not personally coached by Minichiello, she met him in various contexts from 2007 to 2012, when he trained some of her rivals and acted as coach for the British athletics team.
“When I had an incident with Toni in 2007, I raised it with senior staff at UK Athletics,” Hazel told the Telegraph. “I was adamant that I wanted to make a complaint against him and that his behavior crossed the line in terms of professionalism.
“I felt it was malicious and the intention was not to strengthen the team – with me being a member of the team and him a team manager. It actually had the potential to have the opposite effect, sabotaging my competitors.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around why he would behave in that way as a member of GB [team]and why he thought it was an acceptable way to behave like a grown man towards other team members my age.
– There were no disciplinary measures. I was advised to just stay away from Toni, which was extremely upsetting given that I was the one who filed the complaint. Why did it stop there?
“In any national governing body there should be some sort of system in place that allows a person making a complaint to escalate the complaint to the highest authority so that it can be taken seriously rather than effectively being brushed under the rug.
“Who knows, if what I complained about had been taken seriously, it might not have gone as far as we see in these accusations today. I’m just so stunned to see the scale of the allegations.”
Ennis-Hill, who won an Olympic and three world heptathlon championships with Minichiello, described the case as “both shocking and harrowing” on Tuesday. However, it has since emerged how she had described in her book “it took me a few years to stop being afraid of” Minichiello.
“He just had a very blunt manner and it often upset me,” she wrote. “I was sensitive and he didn’t get it. Sometimes he still says things and I think ‘you can’t say that’ but maybe that’s his way of getting the best out of all of us.”
Amid the fallout from the case elsewhere, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the three-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer, suggested that UK Athletics should have added him to an internationally banned list.
A UK Athletics spokesperson said they were unable to comment on Hazel’s specific allegations, but reinforced that there is now a robust process in place to register complaints and report concerns within the sport.
The governing body has previously brought disciplinary proceedings against Minichiello. The Telegraph understands that he was previously the subject of a new complaint to UK Athletics after he made an inappropriate comment to an audience member during a coaching conference. In 2017, Minichiello also received an official warning from UK Athletics for using foul language towards one of his former female athletes, allegedly telling them: “Get off the pitch, you’re not allowed here and it’s my pitch f— — off.” He called the accusations “insulting and inaccurate”.
The recent investigation into Minichiello came amid a safeguarding crackdown under former UK Athletics boss Joanna Coates in the wake of a string of safeguarding controversies in the sport.
Hazel confirmed that when she was informed of the investigation, she came forward to testify against him.
The panel found 11 proven allegations against him, including repeatedly putting two fingers to his mouth and sticking his tongue through his lips to simulate oral sex, and telling an athlete that if she didn’t keep training she could “suck me — -“. In addition to “wiping” three female athletes from behind, he also touched women’s breasts.
Minichiello, the panel found, was considered to have engaged in “inappropriate and sometimes aggressive behaviour, bullying and emotional abuse”.
UK Athletics said the findings, which amount to major breaches of their coaching license conditions over a 15-year period, “constitute gross breaches of trust” and are of the “utmost seriousness”.
Minichiello says he “vehemently” denied “all the allegations against me” and has “not behaved inappropriately towards any of my athletes”.
Hazel added: “I am appalled at the lack of apology in his statement and also a lack of recognition for the people he has hurt. I don’t expect an apology because I don’t know he’s capable of one.”