Coates has been criticised by the federal government and Australian Paralympic Committee for using the phrase in the leaked email.
“It was the wrong choice of words,” Coates said on Thursday, in a statement.
“I know that because I’ve spent most of my adult life advancing the cause of disabilities and for which the Australian Paralympic Committee extended me its highest award — the Australian Paralympic medal. It’s actually one of the things I’m proudest of.
“Yes, I got the email wrong and apologise.”
Former AOC chief executive Fiona de Jong released a chain of emails on Wednesday in which Coates told a cancer-suffering AOC staffer that she didn’t work in a “sheltered workshop”.
Australian Paralympic Committee chief Lynne Anderson said the phrase denigrated the disabled.
And federal Sports Minister Greg Hunt said “some language has been used which is inappropriate”.
“I want to make it absolutely clear that language which flippantly casts aspersions on those with disabilities is not appropriate and has no place in Australian public or private discourse,” the minister told reporters in Melbourne yesterday.
“It was inappropriate in the past, it’s completely unacceptable in this day and age.”
Coates used the term in an email response to De Jong about to an unnamed AOC lawyer who was suffering from cancer.
In the correspondence, Coates criticised the woman’s performance, and when De Jong emailed Coates to defend the woman, he replied: “[She] is a solicitor, hardly a junior member of staff. If she’s offended it’s probably time for her to get out in the real world. Ours is not a sheltered workshop.”
Coates is facing the first challenge to his AOC presidency since taking the role in 1990.
Olympic hockey gold medallist Danni Roche is seeking to oust Coates with an election to be held on May 6.
Roche said yesterday allegations of widespread AOC workplace bullying demand a “transparent” investigation.
“The need for change is now clear,” Roche told reporters in Melbourne.
“It needs to change and needs to change now.
“Allegations of bullying and intimidation are of a very serious nature.
“Bullying and intimidation have no place in any workplace let alone one that is responsible for promoting and upholding the spirit of the Olympic movement.”
AOC media director Mike Tancred stood down on Wednesday pending the results of a bullying complaint against him by de Jong.
Tancred’s move came hours before an AOC executive meeting referred the bullying claims to an independent committee for a ruling.
The AOC executive also announced it would trigger an independent investigation into its workplace practices.
“The AOC has commissioned a review into specific allegations made by its media director, an internal investigation into workplace culture,” Roche said.
“I believe both matters need to be investigated independently and transparently,.”
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