Exclusive: UK Athletics accused of ignoring complaint about 'malicious' Toni Minichiello in 2007

·5 min read
Toni Minichiello has been banned for life by UK Athletics sexually inappropriate behaviour - AFP
Toni Minichiello has been banned for life by UK Athletics sexually inappropriate behaviour - AFP

UK Athletics has been accused of ignoring a complaint made about 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 members of staff at the governing body in 2007, only for the issue to be “brushed under the carpet”.

On Tuesday, UK Athletics told Minichiello, who gained prominence as Jessica Ennis-Hill’s coach, he will never work in the domestic sport again after investigators found he touched two women’s breasts and told another she could “suck my ----” if she did not continue to train. The charges were prompted by complaints from a host of athletes, although Telegraph Sport understands Ennis-Hill is not one of those involved.

Although Hazel was not personally coached by Minichiello, she encountered him in various contexts from 2007 to 2012, when he trained some of her rivals and served as a UK Athletics team coach.

“When I had an incident with Toni in 2007, I raised it with senior members of staff at UK Athletics,” Hazel told the Telegraph. “I was adamant that I wanted to make a complaint against him and that his behaviour crossed the line in terms of professionalism.

“I felt it was malicious and the intent was not to bolster 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, which was sabotaging my competition.

“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 as a grown man towards other team members my age.

“There was no disciplinary action. I was informed at the time just to stay away from Toni, which was extremely upsetting given that I was the person lodging the complaint. Why did it stop there?

Louise Hazel says she reported Minichiello to senior members of staff at UK Athletics in 2007 - PA
Louise Hazel says she reported Minichiello to senior members of staff at UK Athletics in 2007 - PA

“In any national governing body there should be some sort of system in place that enables a person making a complaint to escalate that complaint to the highest power in order for it to be taken seriously instead of it effectively being brushed under the carpet.

“Who knows, if what I was complaining about had been taken seriously, it might not have gone to the lengths that we see in these charges today. I’m just so gobsmacked to see the extent of the charges.”

Ennis-Hill,  who won an Olympic and three world heptathlon titles working with Minichiello, described the case as "both shocking and upsetting" on Tuesday. However, it has since emerged how she had detailed in her book "it took me a few years before I stopped being scared of" Minichiello.

"He just had a very blunt way and it often made me upset," she wrote. "I was sensitive and he did not realise that. Sometimes he still says things and I think 'you can't say that', but perhaps that is his way of dragging the best out of us all."

Amid the fallout from the case elsewhere, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the three-time Olympic gold swimmer, suggested 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 claims, but reinforced that there is now a robust process in place for registering complaints and reporting concerns within the sport.

The governing body has previously pursued disciplinary cases against Minichiello. The Telegraph understands he was previously subject to another complaint to UK Athletics after he made an inappropriate comment to an audience member during a coaches conference. In 2017, Minichiello also received an official warning from UK Athletics for using abusive language towards one of his former female athletes, allegedly telling them: “Get off the track, you’re not allowed on here and it’s my track, f--- off.” He called the accusations “insulting and inaccurate”.

The recent investigation into Minichiello came amid a safeguarding crackdown under former UK Athletics chief executive Joanna Coates in the wake of a number of safeguarding controversies in the sport.

Hazel confirmed that when she was informed of the investigation, she put herself forward to testify against him.

The panel found 11 proven charges against him, including repeatedly putting two fingers to his mouth and poking his tongue through his lips to mimic oral sex, and telling an athlete if she did not continue training, she could “suck my ----”. As well as “dry humping” three female athletes from behind, he also touched women’s breasts.

Minichiello, the panel found, was deemed to have engaged in “inappropriate and sometimes aggressive behaviour, bullying and emotional abuse”.

UK Athletics said the findings, which amount to major breaches of its coach licence terms over a 15-year period, “constitute gross breaches of trust” and are of the “utmost seriousness”.

Minichiello says he “strongly” denied “all the charges made against me”, and has “not behaved inappropriately towards any of my athletes”.

Hazel added: “I’m appalled by a lack of apology in his statement and also a lack of acknowledgement for the people he has hurt. I don’t expect an apology because I don’t know that he’s even capable of one.”