Commonwealth Games: Apology fails to defuse row over disabled

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ARTHUR TUNSTALL, the secretary and treasurer of the Australian Commonwealth Games Association, has apologised for criticising the inclusion of disabled sports in the Games programme.

However, he stands by his belief that a separate event should be staged for disabled athletes because of the lack of interest in their events here. 'I accept I may have offended some people by the comments I have made, therefore I want to apologise to them,' he said. 'What I said certainly was not meant to be taken in the context it was and without reservation I express that I am sorry.'

Tunstall had said he believed disabled athletes, who will compete in swimming, wheelchair racing and bowls, were 'an embarrassment'.

In Sydney, Andrew Kyprianou, president of the Australian branch of Disabled Peoples' International, said the apology was 'little compensation' for the damage done to Australia's reputation. 'If we as a nation allow Arthur Tunstall to remain a sporting ambassador representing all Australians it will send a message to the rest of the world that we tolerate bigotry,' he said.

Australia was one of the most successful nations in the 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona, returning to a ticker-tape parade in Sydney. 'I think his comments are unfortunate,' John Faulkner, the Australian Minister for Sport, said of Tunstall's remark. 'The Australian government is proud of the disabled athletes in our country and we fully support integration of the Games.'

Tanni Grey, Britain's leading disabled sportswoman who is England's wheelchair manager in Victoria, claimed she was not offended by the remarks. 'The disabled athletes I have spoken to have reacted by saying: 'So what?' We are here and that's what matters,' she said. 'Most people have accepted us being around. We want to be positive and show what's happening here is the way forward.'

The Victoria event is the first to integrate the disabled almost fully with able-bodied competitors. They are considered to be full members of their national squads, staying in the same village and parading in the opening and closing ceremonies alongside their able-bodied team-mates.

The Commonwealth Games Federation had hoped that by sanctioning their inclusion here they would start a trend that would be taken up by the Olympic movement. But the response has been disappointing. So far, only 55 disabled athletes have taken up the 132 places available, including 11 from Australia.

(Photograph omitted)