Athletes afraid to speak about abuse for fear of losing funding, says Minichiello

Toni Minichiello Minichiello coached Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill

Athletes are afraid to speak out about a culture of abuse because they fear not being selected or losing funding, says coach Toni Minichiello.

Olympic medallist Nile Wilson told BBC Sport on Monday that British gymnasts were treated like “pieces of meat”.

Minichiello, who coached Jessica Ennis-Hill to Olympic heptathlon gold in 2012, says “athletics is the same”.

He added: “Athletes, coaches [are] afraid to speak out in case it would affect selection or […] funding.”

On Twitter, Minichiello said the “culture has developed since Lottery funding came in” for elite sport in 1997.

He added: “In life there is a selection of employers and employment rights legislation. In sport, one employer no rights, no protection under the law.

“And in the main we are talking about the abuse of CHILDREN.”

UK Athletics (UKA) has acknowledged there is “a lot more work to be done” regarding safeguarding after an independent review of its policies published last month found a “lack of precision” in lines of responsibility.

The governing body has been given a 12-month timeframe for implementing the recommendations because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

BBC Sport has contacted UKA for a response to Minichiello’s comments.

In July, British Gymnastics announced an independent review would be launched to look into allegations of widespread mistreatment in the sport. But concerns have been raised about the time taken to look into complaints in the past.

The governing body defended its processes after Olympic medallist Amy Tinkler criticised it for a lack of urgency with an investigation into her claims of bullying and abuse.

Former Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford says there is “zero community within track” and the culture in athletics is “all for one and one for one”.

He tweeted: “The other issue I have is that every time I did speak out I was told by other athletes, commentators and people working in the sport to be quiet and that I was exaggerating… until they had an issue.”

Former Olympic sprinter Chris Lambert said: “This is absolutely a massive problem. Athletes are easy to pick off because of the individual nature of the sport. And anyone in sport admin is so often only interested when your star is on the rise.

“It’s the way of things, but it’s a lot for young broke athletes to take on.”

Winter Paralympic gold medallist Kelly Gallagher said: “Same with most sports I guess. Sometimes think to myself that it is strange how athletes are so downtrodden when the sport is supposedly about us, athletes.”