Special Olympics Mission

The power of sport to change lives is clear in the joy visible on the face of Matthias Puetz of Germany after his snowboarding performance during the 2013 World Winter Games in Korea. Photo by Diego Azubel

The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual 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.

230 x 300 Snowshoeing in Korea

Snowshoeing gold medalist Carmen Rosa Garcia of Bolivia at the 2013 World Winter Games. Photo: Diego Azubel

46 Years of Empowerment

The Special Olympics mission remains as vital today as it did when the movement was founded in 1968. Special Olympics strives to create a better world by fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people. 

Through the power of sports, people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills and success. Our athletes find joy, confidence and fulfillment -- on the playing field and in life. They also inspire people in their communities and elsewhere to open their hearts to a wider world of human talents and potential.

There are about 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world. Our goal is to reach out to every one of them – and their families as well. Special Olympics does this through a wide range of trainings, competitions, health screenings and fund-raising events. We also create opportunities for families, community members, local leaders, businesses, law enforcement, celebrities, dignitaries and others to band together to change attitudes and support athletes.


About Intellectual Disability

Special Olympics is a global movement of people who want to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. But what are intellectual disabilities? Learn More

The Power to Transform Lives

The transformative power of sports to instill confidence, improve health and inspire a sense of competition is at the core of what Special Olympics does. From the detailed coaching guides we provide in many languages to the sharp-eyed officials at our international games, the focus is on real sports, real competition, real achievements.

In Special Olympics, the power and joy of sport, shifts focus to what our athletes CAN do, not what they can't. Attention to disabilities fades away. Instead, we see our athletes' talents and abilities -- and applaud them for all that they can do. And they are doing a lot -- from gymnastics to soccer to open-water swimming. With our 33 Olympic-style sports, we offer adults and children with intellectual disabilities many ways to be involved in their communities, many ways to show who they really are.  


Stories about the Power of Special Olympics


October 02, 2014 | North America: Indiana

A Heart of A Champion...

By Kathleen Williams

Hello my name is Katie Williams. I'm 36 years old. I've been involved in Special Olympics 25 years and during the 25 years I've been competing in swimming.View Story Hello my name is Katie Williams. I'm 36 years old. I've been involved in Special Olympics 25 years and during the 25 years I've been competing in swimming.. I've also attended the 2011 World Summer Games. I was the first female at my first World Games to win gold for Team USA in Athens, and I also went to the National Games, and I won the national title in the 100 freestyle in a personal lifetime best. Special Olympics has changed my life. I've accepted to be a champion and I also take losing with pride and with a smile. I've been able to meet Olympic Gold medalist Ryan Lochte and show him my medals as well as his Florida coach Greg Troy. It's been my honor to be part in such a wonderful thing. I'll be helping welcome the 500 athletes to Indianapolis camp for 2015 World Games soon. I'm thrilled and excited and can't be more proud of Special Olympics. It's been my honor being a part of something great. Thank you all...

About Kathleen Williams:My Name is Katie Williams I'm 36 And I'm a Proud World Games Olympic Champion and Proud USA Games National Champion... I've been Involved in Special Olympics 25 years and I can't be More Proud to be apart of it and I Love the Athletes as they're Family to me I Thank the Coaches I've met along the way Who have given me So Much Pride it's been My Honor thank u all :)
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October 02, 2014 | Europe Eurasia: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Successful partnership continues to generate sports opportunities for athletes

By Kada Delic-Selimovic

Special Olympics athletes who won medals at the recent European Games in Antwerp were recognized during Opening Ceremonies.

A successful partnership between Special Olympics and a local disability group in Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to flourish. Together, Special Olympics Bosnia and Herzegovina and OAZA organized a competition for over 400 Special Olympics athletes.View Story A successful partnership between Special Olympics and a local disability group in Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to flourish. Together, Special Olympics Bosnia and Herzegovina and OAZA organized a competition for over 400 Special Olympics athletes. The event, the fourth large competition to be jointly organized, took place in Sarajevo from 25-28 September 2014 in Sarajevo. On 27 September, the day’s sports events were dedicated to Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Special Olympics athletes competed in seven sports. The Motor Activity Training Program (MATP) also was organized for those individuals with severe intellectual disabilities and 86 people took part. The games were funded through an initiative that OAZA has with SHIA, a network of Swedish disability groups funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and FIFH Malmo, a Swedish disability sports organization.

About Kada Delic-Selimovic:Kada Delic-Selimovic is National Director of Special Olympics Bosnia and Herzegovina.
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October 02, 2014 | Asia Pacific: Cambodia

USAID And Special Olympics Reaching Rural Cambodia Through Sporting Opportunities

By Simon Koh

Mr. Sean Callahan, Deputy Mission Director of USAID Cambodia (2nd from left), and H.E. Meas Sarin (3rd from left), Vice-Chair of Special Olympics Cambodia and Committee Adviser to the Ministry of Education at the Press Announcement on 29 September 2014

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Special Olympics launched a new program that will use sports to help hundreds of Cambodians with disabilities become more active members of their communities.View Story The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Special Olympics launched a new program that will use sports to help hundreds of Cambodians with disabilities become more active members of their communities. The ‘Rural Expansion of Sports’ project will reach four Cambodian provinces (Takeo, Battambang, Svey Reing and Kampong Thom). In using sports as a path for greater social inclusion, the project intends to recruit over 1,000 people with intellectual disabilities for Special Olympics Cambodia, over 100 new coaches and approximately 250 new family members. This 18-month project will provide specialized training for Cambodians with intellectual disabilities, who will join Special Olympics Cambodia as Special Olympics athletes. Mr. Sean Callahan, Deputy Mission Director of USAID Cambodia, and Dr. Meas Sarin, Vice-Chair of the Special Olympics Cambodia and Adviser to the Ministry of Education were present at the Press Announcement on 29 September.

About Simon Koh:I am Operations Director for Special Olympics Asia Pacific.
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October 01, 2014 | North America: Florida

Why I Love Unified Sports

By Jennifer Hartley

Our Unified Bowling Team won first place!

To me, playing unified sports is like having one big family. We all talk to each other, laugh together, and learn from each other. Thank you Eunice Kennedy Shriver for starting this very important movement.View Story Both my husband and sister have intellectual disabilities. Playing unified sports is a way for me to play with them and gives me a chance to spend more time with them. I love seeing them try new things and how they feel when they realize- Hey! I can do this too! It's so much fun when we can stand there side by side and receive ribbons or medals for what we have accomplished. Thanks to unified sports, I have made so many new friends! Getting to compete alongside the athletes is an experience I will never forget. We all cheer for each other and encourage one another. If someone is upset, we comfort them. To me, playing unified sports is like having one big family. We all talk to each other, laugh together, and learn from each other. Thank you Eunice Kennedy Shriver for starting this very important movement. Your legacy will never be forgotten. In your words- Play unified to live unified!

About Jennifer Hartley:I am 36 years old, and I am a Unified Partner. I play soccer, football, basketball, I swim, and I bowl I live with my husband, sister, and 4 dogs. I love to do volunteer work in my community.
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September 19, 2014 | Europe Eurasia: Belgium

Special Olympics mean everything to Pieter

By Emilie Bruynbroeck

Pieter Schram

Special Olympics mean a lot to Belgian swimmer Pieter Schram, one of the Belgian ambassadors. Pieter, 17, has autism and has had a rough time at school as well as at home.View Story Special Olympics mean a lot to Belgian swimmer Pieter Schram, one of the Belgian ambassadors. Pieter, 17, has autism and has had a rough time at school as well as at home. He found it hard to structure his life. That is why he was always very fidgety and too shy to make some friends. Swimming has helped him to create some structure as a result of wich he is much more at ease and he can cope with his environment more easily.Pieter is very grateful towards his coach, his school and Special Olympics for giving him this opportunity. The motivation he felt after he qualified has given his self-confidence a real boost.Today he swam the selection round of 25 meters freestyle. At the starting shot, Pieter burst into the water in lane five. He could conquer pole position immediately and didn’t give it away anymore. Evidently he cried a cheer of joy with a time of 17.4 seconds. A time with which he has a big shot on a gold medal.

About Emilie Bruynbroeck:I am a volunteer contributor at the media desk in Antwerp Expo. I study journalism.
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September 18, 2014 | Europe Eurasia: Belgium

Healthy Athletes Saving Lives at Antwerp 2014

By Maureen Rabbitt

Volunteer medical specialists at Healthy Athletes conduct free examinations in a whole range of medical care and services.

Volunteer health professionals at a Healthy Athletes Fit Feet clinic may have saved the life of a Special Olympics athlete Wednesday. They found she had an infection caused by a toenail growing into her flesh.View Story Volunteer health professionals at the Healthy Athletes Fit Feet clinic may have saved the life of a Special Olympics athlete Wednesday. They found she had an infection caused by a toenail growing into her flesh. ”Untreated, the blood of the athlete could have been poisoned within three days, which could cause death” says Carine Haemels, President of the International Federation of Specialists in Podiatry and Regional Clinical Adviser to the Fit Feet Program of the Special Olympics European Summer Games 2014. "We immediately referred the athlete to a specialist and in this way her life was probably saved. In many cases people with an intellectual disability have a different sensibility to pain and as conditions develop may not feel the pain any more. So it can often happen that health problems are not revealed in time. A case like this proves that our work and the work of Special Olympics Healthy athletes is vital.”

About Maureen Rabbitt:I am responsible for Communications & Branding at Special Olympics Europe Eurasia.
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September 17, 2014 | North America: Washington

No Athlete to Super Athlete

By Elise Skovmand

When I turned 25 I joined Special Olympics. I have Cerebral Palsy. I liked water but didn't know how to swim. I wasn't doing well with sports when I was young, now I swim every day.View Story I am a swimmer. When I turned 25 I joined Special Olympics. I have Cerebral Palsy. I liked water but didn't know how to swim. I wasn't doing well with sports when I was young, now I swim every day. I have a friend who keeps me on task and reminds me to "Just keep swimming" in Nemo's world! Swimming has kept me active and helps me to be confident in the water and not be afraid. I strive for the Gold medals! Having good sportmanship is also part of the key to having fun. Now I am a super athlete!

About Elise Skovmand:I am a athlete. I like to Swim. I practice everyday!
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September 15, 2014 | Asia Pacific: Pakistan

Respect for All!!

By lubna nawaz

I question myself: why should Hashim suffer? why can't he go out and enjoy the way he wants? He is a bit different and wants to see the world according to his understanding. He has his own abilities.View Story Hi,my name is Lubna and mother of two boys with autism. Both are Special Olympics Pakistan athletes. My younger son Hashim is non-verbal and very hyper, especially going in market places and family events. I have noticed that people stared at us. They look at him as if someone alien has invaded. First, this used to embarrass me a lot, and every time I used to promise myself I will not take my son along with me, but being his mother, I question myself: why should Hashim suffer? why can't he go out and enjoy the way he wants? He is a bit different and wants to see the world according to his understanding. He has his own abilities. I have come to a firm belief that as he doesn't judge anyone, so no one else has the right to judge him. Now I take him out with pride and make sure that he enjoys his life!!

About lubna nawaz:Hello,I'm Lubna Nawaz ,mother of two boys name Haseeb and Hashim both are autistic and are Special Olympics Pakistan athletes. I am also part of the family support network of Special Olympics Pakistan.
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September 11, 2014 | SOI General: Headquarters

A Big Bite Out of Global Oral Health Disparities

By Lynn Aylward

Special Olympics Bharat

Special Olympics Bharat (India) is participating in a new dental clinic and securing important new partners for its Healthy Athletes oral health work.View Story Special Olympics Bharat (India) is participating in a new dental clinic and securing important new partners for its Healthy Athletes oral health work. Dr. Reena. R. Kumar is a dental professor at Divya Jyoti College of Dental Sciences & Research and a Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Special Smiles Clinical Director. She is inaugurating a Special Care Clinic, in conjunction with the International Association for Disability & Oral Health (IADH), on September 15. On the same day, IADH launches its India Chapter. Special Olympics Bharat (India), IADH’s new India chapter, and Divya Jyoti College of Dental Sciences & Research have also signed a memorandum of understanding to create a sustainable model to provide quality oral health care to people with intellectual disabilities. Since 17 percent of the world’s teeth are located in India, the Special Care Clinic and the MOU are a start at taking a big bite out of global oral health disparities for people with intellectual disabilities. Getting dental care and achieving oral health is one of the biggest health concerns for people with intellectual disabilities. IADH, with chapters in 40 countries, is dedicated to improving the oral health and quality of life of people with special needs and Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Special Smiles initiative provides dental health examinations and care for people with intellectual disabilities.

About Lynn Aylward:I work in communications for Special Olympics.
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September 04, 2014 | Asia Pacific: Pakistan

Umair Ahmed Shaikh

By Aisha Bandukda

Umair's siblings do not have any disabilities and his mother was very worried as he was unable to cope with his work. After joining Special Olympics Pakistan, a noticeable change could be seen as he made many new friends on the grounds.View Story Umair Ahmed Shaikh, 23, has been a part of SPECIAL OLYMPICS PAKISTAN for 15 years. He helps out with office and kitchen work. His academic qualifications include passing Intermediate level. Sir Arif was training at his school, 'Danish Gha' and that is how his family was introduced to Special Olympics Pakistan. His siblings do not have any disabilities and his mother was very worried as he was unable to cope with his work. She admitted him in a special school where his improvement was very slow. After joining Special Olympics Pakistan, a noticeable change could be seen as he made many new friends on the grounds. He excelled in Basketball to the point of being selected for the world games (Athens 2011), where he won a silver medal, confirming that people with intellectual disabilities are as good as any other, if given a chance. He currently trains other special children in basketball. His family and friends encourage others to join the programme.

About Aisha Bandukda:I am Aisha Bandukda, currently enrolled at IBA and I work as a volunteer at Special Olympics Pakistan.
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Decades of sports for people with intellectual disabilities.
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Special Olympics Blog

Suneedhi: a Girl, a Clinic, a Dream

For a dental surgeon such as myself, screening was just the first step! i felt we needed to go beyond examinations to ensuring people with intellectual disability got any treatment that they needed. I felt I could help more. read more »

Posted on 2014-09-22 by Lynn

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