What is Special Olympics?

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Special Olympics is a global movement of people creating a new world of inclusion and community, where every single person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of ability or disability. We are helping to make the world a better, healthier and more joyful place — one athlete, one volunteer, one family member at a time.

Special Olympics is an international program of year-round sports training and athletic competition for persons with intellectual disability.


The Special Olympicsmission is to provide year-round sport training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disability by giving themcontinuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.


  • Special Olympics was founded on the belief that people with intellectual disability can, with proper instruction and encouragement, learn, enjoy and benefit fromparticipation in individual and teamsports.
  • Believes that consistent training is essential to the development of sport skills, and that competition among those of equal abilities is themost appropriatemeans of testing these skills,measuring progress and providing incentives for personal growth.
  • Through sport training and competition, people with intellectual disability benefitmentally, socially and spiritually.
  • Families are strengthened.
  • The community-at-large, both through participation and observation, is united in understanding people with intellectual disability in an environment of equality, respect and acceptance.


w  The goal of Special Olympics is to help bring all persons with intellectual disability into the larger society under conditions whereby they are accepted, respected and given a chance to become productive citizens.

w  As ameans of achieving this goal, Special Olympics encourages itsmore capable athletes tomove fromSpecial Olympics training and competition into school and community programs where they can compete in regular sports activities. The decision to leave or continue involvement in Special Olympics is the athlete’s choice.

w  All Special Olympics activities—at the local state, national, and international levels―reflect the values, standards, traditions, ceremonies and events embodied in themodern Olympicsmovement. These Olympic-type activities have been broadened and enriched to celebrate themoral and spiritual qualities of persons with intellectual disability so as to enhance their dignity and self-esteem.

w  Participation in Special Olympics training programs and competitive events is open to all people with intellectual disability who are at least eight years old, regardless of the degree of their disability.

w  Comprehensive, year-round training is available to every Special Olympics athlete, conducted by well-qualified coaches in accordance with the standardized Sports Rules formulated and adopted by Special Olympics, and every athlete who participates in a Special Olympics sport will be trained in that sport.

w  Every Special Olympics Programincludes sports events and activities that are appropriate to the age and ability level of each athlete, frommotor activities to themost advanced competition.

w  Provides full participation for every athlete regardless of economic circumstances and conducts training and competition under themost favorable conditions possible, including facilities, administration, training, coaching, officiating and events.

w  At every awards ceremony, in addition to the traditionalmedals for first, second and third places, athletes finishing fromfourth to last place are presented a suitable place ribbon with appropriate ceremony.

w  To the greatest extent possible, Special Olympics activities will be run by and involve local volunteers, fromschool- and college-age individuals to senior citizens, in order to create greater opportunities for public understanding for people with intellectual disability.

w  To offer athletes a full range of artistic, social and cultural experiences through activities such as dances, art exhibits, concerts, visits to historic sites, clinics, theatrical performances and similar activities.

w  The “Spirit of Special Olympics”—skill, courage, sharing and joy―incorporates universal values which transcend all boundaries of geography, nationality, political philosophy, gender, age, race or religion.

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