World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Special Olympics

Article Id: WHEBN0000042713
Reproduction Date:

Title: Special Olympics  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Special Olympics

Special Olympics
Founded 1968
Founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Origins Camp Shriver
Area served International
Key people Timothy Shriver (Chairman of the Board)
Janet Froetscher (Chief Executive Officer)
Stephen M. Carter (Lead Director & Vice Chair)
Bart Conner (Vice Chair)
Raymond J. Lane (Vice Chair)
Ossie Kilkenny (Treasurer)[1]

Special Olympics is the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to more than 4.2 million athletes in 170 countries. Special Olympics competitions are held every day, all around the world—including local, national and regional competitions, adding up to more than 70,000 events a year.[2]

These competitions include the Special Olympics World Games, which alternate between summer and winter games. Special Olympics World Games are held every two years. The most recent World Summer Games were the Special Olympics World Summer Games, held in Athens, Greece (The birthplace of the modern Olympic Games), from June 25, 2011 to July 4, 2011.[3]

The most recent Special Olympics World Winter Games were held in Pyeongchang, South Korea from January 29 to February 5, 2013.[4] At the same time, the first Special Olympics Global Development Summit was held on "Ending the Cycle of Poverty and Exclusion for People with Intellectual Disabilities," gathering government officials, activists and business leaders from around the world [5]

The next World Games will be the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, California from July 25 to August 2, 2015.[6] Graz and Schladming, Austria will host the next Special Olympics World Winter Games from March 14–24, 2017.[7]


  • History 1
  • Symbols 2
  • Participation 3
  • Sports offered 4
  • Famous supporters 5
  • Unified Sports 6
  • Healthy Athletes 7
  • Criticism 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12


In June 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a day camp for children with intellectual disabilities at her home in Potomac, Maryland.[8] She started this camp because she was concerned about children with intellectual disabilities having nowhere to play. Using Camp Shriver as an example, Shriver, who was head of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and part of President Kennedy's Panel on Mental Retardation, promoted the concept of involvement in physical activity and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. Camp Shriver became an annual event, and the Kennedy Foundation (of which Shriver was executive vice president) gave grants to universities, recreation departments and community centers to hold similar camps.

Shriver and Kennedy’s oldest sister, Rosemary Kennedy, underwent a lobotomy in an effort by their father to cure her mental disability.[9] The brain damage inflicted by the operation caused her to be permanently incapacitated.[10] This disability is often credited as Shriver's inspiration to form Special Olympics, but Shriver told The New York Times in 1995 that was not exactly the case.[11]

The first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago. About 1500 athletes from the U.S. and Canada took part in the one-day event, which was a joint venture by the Kennedy Foundation and the Chicago Park District.[12] Anne McGlone Burke, a physical education teacher with the Chicago Park District and recipient of a Kennedy Foundation grant,[13] began with the idea for a one-time Olympic-style athletic competition for people with special needs. Burke then approached Eunice Kennedy Shriver to fund the event. Shriver encouraged Burke to expand on the idea and the JPK Jr. Foundation provided a grant of $25,000.

The advisory committee to the Chicago Special Olympics included Dr. William Freeberg, Southern Illinois University; Dr. Frank J. Hayden, Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation; Dr. Arthur Peavy; William McFetridge, Anne McGlone Burke and Stephen Kelly of the Chicago Park District; and Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was honorary chairman. At the July 1968 games, Shriver announced the formation of Special Olympics and that more games would be held every two years as a "Biennial International Special Olympics.".[12]

In 1971, The U.S. Olympic Committee gave the Special Olympics official approval to use the name “Olympics”.[8]

The first 1977 Special Olympics World Winter Games were held in February 1977 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, U.S.[8]

In 1988, the Special Olympics was officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).[8]

In 1997, Healthy Athletes became an official Special Olympics initiative, offering health information and screenings to Special Olympics athletes worldwide.[8][14] By 2010, the Healthy Athletes program had given free health screenings and treatment to more than 1 million people with intellectual disabilities.

The crowd at the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games Opening Ceremonies in Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland.

In 2003 the first Special Olympics World Summer Games to be held outside of the United States took place in Dublin, Ireland. Approximately 7,000 athletes from 150 countries competed over 18 disciplines. The Dublin games were also the first to have their own opening and closing ceremonies broadcast live, performed by the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese. Most significantly the 2003 games dramatically changed the perceptions and attitudes of society regarding the abilities and limitations of people with intellectual disabilities. The opening ceremony of the 2003 Games has been described by President McAleese as "a time when Ireland was at its superb best".[15]

On October 30, 2004, President [16] Co-sponsored by Representatives Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Harry Reid (D-NV), the bills were passed by unanimous consent in both chambers.

In July 2006, the first Special Olympics USA Games were held at Iowa State University. Teams from all 50 states and the District of Columbia participated.[17]

In 2008, Special Olympics and Best Buddies International launched the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign to encourage individuals to stop using the word "retard" in everyday speech.

In 2011, Senators Tom Harkin and Roy Blunt and Representatives Steny Hoyer and Peter King introduced the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act to authorize federal funding for Special Olympics Programs and Best Buddies Programs.


The Special Olympics logo has gone through several changes in its lifetime. The "stick figure" is an abstract but humanistic form designed to convey the impression of movement and activity. The logo is a symbol of growth, confidence and joy among children and adults with disabilities who are learning coordination, mastering skills, participating in competitions and preparing themselves for richer, more productive lives. The spherical appearance of the logo is a representation of Special Olympics' global outreach.


Special Olympics programs are available for athletes free of charge. More than 4 million athletes are involved in Special Olympics sports training and competition in 180 countries.[18] The organization offers year-round training and competition in 32 Olympic-style summer and winter sports.[2]

People with intellectual disabilities are encouraged to join Special Olympics for the physical activity, which helps lower the rate of cardiovascular disease and obesity, among other health benefits. Also, they gain many emotional and psychological benefits, including self-confidence, social competence, building greater athletic skills and higher self-esteem.[19] The motivations for joining the Special Olympics vary from one individual to the next; yet, there are common themes among individuals and their families that encourage them to either participate or abstain from the Special Olympics.

Special Olympics competitions are open to athletes ages 8 and up. For young people with intellectual disabilities ages 2–7, Special Olympics has a Young Athletes program—a sport and play program with a focus on fun activities that are important to mental and physical growth.[20] Children engage in games and activities that develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Parents say their children in Young Athletes also develop better social skills. The confidence boost makes it easier for them to play and talk with other children on the playground and elsewhere .[20] A study by the Center for Social Development and Education (University of Massachusetts, Boston) found that the activities also had the effect of helping children with intellectual disabilities learn routines and approaches to learning, along with how to follow rules and directions.[21]

Families can also get involved with the Special Olympics experience. Family members support their athletes to the best of their ability, which may involve attending or volunteering at the events. By being involved they can boost their athlete's self-esteem and will be looked at as a constant source of encouragement.[22]

Volunteers and supporters are an integral part of Special Olympics—and millions of people around the world are committed to its programs. Some are sponsors or donors. Many others are coaches, event volunteers and fans.[23]

Coaches help the athletes be the best they can be regardless of ability—or disability. Special Olympics trains coaches through the Coaching Excellence program, which includes partnering with sports organizations. Special Olympics volunteers are introduced to lifetime friendships and great rewards.[23]

There are many events that families and volunteers can get involved with, but the biggest event is the Law Enforcement Torch Run. The Torch Run involves police chiefs, police officers, secret service, FBI agents, military police, sheriffs, state troopers, prison guards, and other law enforcement personnel. They all get together to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics. Ahead of a Special Olympics competition, law enforcement officers carry the torch in intervals along a planned route covering most of the state or country to the site of the opening ceremonies of the chapter or Special Olympics World Summer or Winter Games. Then they pass the torch to a Special Olympics athlete and together they run up to the cauldron and light it, signifying the beginning of the games.

The Special Olympics athlete's oath is "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." It was first introduced by Eunice Kennedy Shriver at the inaugural Special Olympics international games in Chicago in 1968.[24]

Sports offered

Special Olympics has more than 32 Olympic-type individual and team sports that provide meaningful training and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. A few are listed below:

The above list shows a few of the 32 sports that Special Olympics offers; there are several more recognized and demonstration sports, including Open Water Swimming, Kayaking, Floorball, Cricket, Netball and Beach Volleyball. Availability of sports can depend on location and season.

A key difference between Special Olympics competitions and those of other sports organizations is that athletes of all ability levels are encouraged to participate. Competitions are structured so that athletes compete with other athletes of similar ability in equitable divisions.[25] An athlete's ability is the primary factor in divisioning Special Olympics competitions. The ability of an athlete or team is determined by an entry score from a prior competition or the result of a seeding round or preliminary event at the competition itself. Other factors that are significant in establishing competitive divisions are age and sex.

At competitions, medals are awarded to the first, second and third-place winners in each event and ribbons are awarded to athletes who finish in fourth through eighth place.[26]

In the Young Athletes program, children ages 2–7 play simple sports and games. The focus is on fun activities that are important to mental and physical growth.

In 1968, track and field and swimming were the first two official sports offered by Special Olympics. As in the Olympics, events are introduced in training and then added to the competitive schedule, and from there the list of sports and events continued to grow.

Famous supporters

The Special Olympics movement has attracted the support of a number of international sportsmen and other celebrities, including [28]

Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Quincy Jones took part in a 2003 Global Youth Summit at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin, Ireland. U.S. President Bill Clinton took part in a Global Youth Summit during the 2005 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

In 2011, [28] [29] More recently, WNBA player Elena Delle Donne, whose older sister Lizzie has multiple disabilities,[30] was named a Global Ambassador in 2014.[31]

Unified Sports

In recent years, Special Olympics has pioneered the concept of Unified Sports, bringing together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities as teammates.[32] The basic concept is that training together and playing together can create a path to friendship and understanding. The program has expanded beyond the U.S. and North America: a half-million people worldwide now take part in Special Olympics Unified Sports, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities.[32]

A recent study of Special Olympics Unified Sports in Serbia, Poland, Ukraine, Germany and Hungary documented the program's benefits, including the effect of changing attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities. As one Unified Sports partner said, "I am ashamed to say that I used to laugh at these people (people with intellectual disabilities), now I will tell anybody to stop laughing if I see it and I will stand up for people if I can." [33] Other evaluations have also shown Unified Sports to be successful in building self-esteem and confidence in people with intellectual disabilities and also as a way to improve understanding and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities among their non-disabled peers.[33]

The Special Olympics Europe Eurasia Regional Research centre is based at the University of Ulster Jordanstown and is jointly led by Professor Roy McConkey and Professor David Hassan.

Healthy Athletes

As Special Olympics began to grow, staffers and volunteers began to notice that athletes—children and adults with intellectual disabilities—also had many untreated health problems. In 1997, Special Olympics began an initiative called Healthy Athletes, which offers health screenings to athletes in need.[34]

Healthy Athletes currently offers health screenings in seven areas: Fit Feet (podiatry), FUNfitness (physical therapy), Health Promotion (better health and well-being), Healthy Hearing (audiology), MedFest (sports physical exam), Opening Eyes (vision) and Special Smiles (dentistry). Screenings educate athletes on healthy and healthy choices and also identify problems that may need additional follow-up.

Since the Healthy Athletes program began, Special Olympics has become the largest global public health organization dedicated to serving people with intellectual disabilities. So far, more than 1.4 million Healthy Athletes screenings have been conducted for people with intellectual disabilities all around the world.[34]

The Special Olympics health initiative has attracted high-profile partners, including the Hear the World Foundation, which screened more than 1,000 athletes during the most recent World Winter Games in Korea; more than 200 of them were found to have hearing loss.[35][36]

In 2012, the Special Olympics Healthy Communities initiative launched in eight countries—Kazakhstan, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Romania, South Africa and Thailand, as well as six U.S. states. The goal is to improve the health and well-being of people with intellectual disabilities and allow them to reach their full potential.[28]


In previous years, some have felt that the Special Olympics in itself are a form of segregation. This is because of the necessity to have a disability to participate. Some studies have shown that Special Olympic events do not lead to the reduction of

  • Special Olympics
  • Special Olympics Live Internet video coverage of the 2009 Special Olympics games.
  • Special Olympics Australia

External links

Further reading

  1. ^ "Special Olympics Board of Directors". Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ "Welcome". Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Main page". Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Global Leaders Convene in PyeongChang, Korea Participate in Groundbreaking Special Olympics Global Development Summit". Special Olympics. 2013-01-30. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  6. ^ "Main page". Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  7. ^ "World Winter Games return to Austria". October 12, 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "The History of Special Olympics". Retrieved September 12, 2010. 
  9. ^ Kessler, p. 247
  10. ^ Kessler, p. 246
  11. ^ Johnson, Kirk (June 23, 1995). "Reaching the Retarded: An Old Kennedy Mission". The New York Times. Retrieved July 5, 2011. 
  12. ^ a b "Out of the Shadows: Events Leading to the Founding of". Special Olympics. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  13. ^ "Feature Article". 1968-07-20. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  14. ^ Mary Davis,[1], “How Health Checks on our Special Athletes are saving lives”, Evening Herald, Thursday, April 7th 2011
  15. ^ Fiona Brady, Taskforce ON citizenship, “Her bridges built, McAleese reflects on a decade in office”, Irish Independent, Saturday, November 3rd 2007
  16. ^ "Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act of 2004". October 30, 2004. Retrieved September 12, 2010. 
  17. ^ "USA National Games". 
  18. ^ Cooper, Chet. "Timothy Shriver — Special Olympics". ABILITY Magazine. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  19. ^ "The Driving Force: Motivation in Special Olympians". 2004. Retrieved September 23, 2011. 
  20. ^ a b "Young Athletes". Special Olympics. 2014-05-06. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  21. ^ "Google Drive Viewer". Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  22. ^ "Our Families". Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  23. ^ a b "Volunteer for Special Olympics". Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Eunice Kennedy Shriver, 1921-2009: She Changed the World for People with Mental Disabilities". 2011-08-19. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  25. ^ "Special Olympics: Divisioning". 2014-05-06. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  26. ^ "Special Olympics: Sports and Games". 2014-05-06. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  27. ^ "Famous Supporters". Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  28. ^ a b c
  29. ^
  30. ^ Hays, Graham. "Finding Her Way Back Home".  
  31. ^ "Elena Delle Donne Named Special Olympics Global Ambassador" (Press release). Special Olympics. February 7, 2014. Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  32. ^ a b "Unified Sports". Special Olympics. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  33. ^ a b
  34. ^ a b "Health Programs". Special Olympics. 2014-05-06. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  35. ^ "Special Olympics". Hear The World. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  36. ^ "Healthy Athletes Stories". Special Olympics. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  37. ^ a b c d e f Storey, Keith (2004). "The Case Against the Special Olympics". Journal of Disability Policy Studies 15 (1): 35–42.  


See also

There are many other documented reasons that people show disdain such as promotion of Disability rights movement where people with disabilities control the service delivery system rather than relying on people without disabilities.[37]

[37] The lack of normalization comes from the differences in reaction to events. For example in previous years the Special Olympics would find people to stand at the finish line to hug the athletes once they've completed a race. Also, the Special Olympics do not announce anyone who's lost a race.[37]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.