What is Special Olympics? 

Special Olympics is a global organisation that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition to nearly 3.5 million children and adults with intellectual (learning) disabilities in more than 170 countries. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of the late President John F Kennedy, Special Olympics provides people with intellectual (learning) disabilities opportunities to realise their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy and friendship.

Is Special Olympics part of the Olympic movement?

In 1988, Special Olympics was recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the third member of the Olympic family. It is the only sports organisation authorised by the IOC to use the word ‘Olympics’ in its title.

How is Special Olympics different from the Paralympics?

Special Olympics and Paralympics are two separate organisations. Special Olympics provides year-round sports, sports training, and local, regional, national and international competitions for all intellectual (learning) disability levels.

The Paralympics welcomes athletes from six main disability categories: amputee, cerebral palsy, learning disability, visually impaired, spinal injuries and Les Autres (French for "the others", a category that includes conditions that do not fall into the categories previously mentioned).

To participate in the Paralympic Games, athletes have to fulfil certain criteria and meet certain qualifying standards in order to be eligible as an elite athlete. These criteria and standards are sports-specific and are determined by the IPC Sports Chairpersons, the Sports Technical Delegates and the relevant international sports organisations. The Paralympics are about elite performance sport, where athletes go through a stringent qualification process so that the best, or highest qualified based on performance, can compete at the Games. 

What is Special Olympics' mission?

Our mission is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual (learning) disabilities, giving them continuing 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.

What impact does Special Olympics have on intellectual (learning) disabled athletes?
Children and adults with intellectual (learning) disabilities who participate in Special Olympics develop improved physical fitness and motor skills, greater self-confidence and a more positive self-image. They grow mentally, socially and spiritually and, through their activities, exhibit boundless courage and enthusiasm, enjoy the rewards of friendship and ultimately discover not only new abilities and talents but “their voices” as well.

How many people does Special Olympics serve globally/in Great Britain?

Special Olympics serves nearly 3.5 million people with intellectual (learning) disabilities in more than 170 countries. In Great Britain the programme currently serves over 8,000 athletes annually through 150 volunteer led accredited local clubs.

Who is eligible to participate in Special Olympics?

To be eligible to participate in Special Olympics, you must be at least 6 years old (8 years old for competition) and identified by an agency or professional as having one of the following conditions: an intellectual (learning) disability, cognitive delay/s as measured by formal education assessment, or significant learning or vocational problems due to cognitive delay that require or have required specially designed instruction. All these conditions would mean that the person has an IQ of below 75.

Persons whose functional limitations are based solely on a physical, behavioural or emotional disability, or a specific learning or sensory disability, are not eligible to participate as Special Olympics athletes, but may be eligible to volunteer for Special Olympics as partners in Unified Sports® if they otherwise meet the separate eligibility requirements for participation in Unified Sports set forth in the Sports Rules.

Can individuals with profound disabilities participate in Special Olympics?

Yes, through the Special Olympics’ Motor Activities Training Program (MATP), developed by physical educators, physical therapists and recreation therapists. MATP emphasises training and participation rather than competition. 

What if I am not eligible to become a Special Olympics athlete?

If your IQ is above 75 and/or you have an intellectual (learning) difficulty (i.e. dyslexia or Asperger's Syndrome) you can still be part of the Special Olympics Movement. You can become a Unified Partner of Sport or a volunteer for your local club.

What is the Special Olympics Athlete Oath?

The Oath is recited by Special Olympics athletes at the start of a competition at the Opening Ceremony: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

Who leads Special Olympics?

Timothy P. Shriver, Ph.D. is Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics International. In Great Britain, the Chairman of the Board is Murton Mann and the Chief Executive Officer is Karen Wallin.

Where do I find information about Special Olympics Sports Rules and Coaching Guides?

Please refer to our Resources section.

When are Special Olympics World Games held?

The Special Olympics World Summer Games are held every four years. The 2007 World Summer Games were held in Shanghai, China; in 2011 the World Summer Games were held in Athens, Greece. The next Games would be held in Los Angeles, USA in 2015.

The Special Olympics World Winter Games are also held every four years. The 2009 World Winter Games were held in Boise, Idaho in the USA; in 2013 the World Winter Games were held in South Korea 

How is Special Olympics Great Britain funded?

Special Olympics Great Britain is a registered charity and is generously supported annually by individual and corporate donations. The charity currently receives no government funding