Page last updated at 18:13 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Obama sorry for disability remark


Tim Shriver says President Obama's apology was 'very sincere'

US President Barack Obama has apologised for joking on a TV chat show that a poor bowling performance was "like the Special Olympics".

He made the comment during an appearance on Jay Leno's Tonight Show, and later phoned the chairman of the Special Olympics to apologise.

Responding, Tim Shriver said Mr Obama's remarks could be seen as "humiliating" to people with special needs.

The organisation involves people with intellectual disabilities in sport.

It was established in 1968 and now runs programmes in more than 180 countries.

Reacting to Mr Obama's comments, Mr Shriver said the president had apologised for his remark.

"He expressed that he did not intend to humiliate [the disabled] population," said Mr Shriver.

But he stressed that the president's comments should not be dismissed out of hand.

"I think it's important to see that words hurt and words do matter," he added.

"And these words that in some respect can be seen as humiliating or a put-down to people with special needs do cause pain and they do result in stereotypes."

'Wonderful programme'

A spokesman for Mr Obama said the remarks were not meant to disparage the Special Olympics.

"He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful programme that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world," the spokesman said.

Mr Obama made the remark after telling Mr Leno that he had been practising his 10-pin bowling in the wake of a much-lampooned performance on the campaign trail in 2008.

On that occasion he managed to score just 37 points, a tally that was filmed and widely highlighted during the campaign.

He had improved his score since then, he said, but was still unhappy with his most recent tally of 129 points: "It was like the Special Olympics or something," the president told Mr Leno.

Mr Obama also talked about his economic policies in the interview, as well as engaging in discussions about his family, and his efforts to find a pet dog for his daughters.

The BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan said the smooth segue in conversation from economic policy to more personal matters demonstrated Mr Obama's so-called "Barackstar" status, as a man equally happy to play the role of politician and personality.

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