Article 2: Special Olympics Athletes
August 17, 2015
Article 2 provides that every person with an intellectual disability who is at least eight years of age is eligible to participate in Special Olympics, and that there is no maximum age limit for participation. It also highlights the Young Athletes program which introduces children from two to seven years old to the world of sport with the goal of preparing them for Special Olympics sports training and competition when they get older.
Participation in Special Olympics is open to all persons with intellectual disabilities who meet the age requirements of this Article, whether or not that person also has other mental or physical disabilities, so long as that person registers to participate.
The use of athletes’ names and likenesses is also covered in this Article, which sets out a requirement for separate consents when an athlete’s name or likeness will be used for the marketing or sale of commercial products or services, even when used to promote Special Olympics.
Eligibility for Participation in Special Olympics
General Statement of Eligibility
Every person with an intellectual disability who is at least eight years of age is eligible to participate in Special Olympics.
There is no maximum age limitation for participation in Special Olympics. The minimum age requirement for participation in Special Olympics competition is eight years of age. The Young Athletes program introduces children, two to seven years old to the world of sport, with the goal of preparing them for Special Olympics sports training and competition when they get older. In addition, an Accredited Program may permit children who are at least six years old to participate in age-appropriate Special Olympics training programs offered by that Accredited Program, or in specific (and age-appropriate) cultural or social activities offered during the course of a Special Olympics event. Such children may be recognized for their participation in such training or other non-competition activities through certificates of participation, or through other types of recognition approved by SOI which are not associated with participation in Special Olympics competition. However, no child may participate in a Special Olympics competition (or be awarded medals or ribbons associated with competition) before his or her eighth birthday.
Degree of Disability
Participation in Special Olympics training and competition is open to persons with intellectual disabilities who meet the age requirements of this Section 2.01, and whether or not that person also has other mental or physical disabilities, so long as that person registers to participate in Special Olympics as required by these General Rules.
Identifying Persons with Intellectual disabilities
A person is considered to have an intellectual disability for purposes of determining his or her eligibility to participate in Special Olympics if that person satisfies any one of the following requirements:
The person has been identified by an agency or professional as having an intellectual disability as determined by their localities; or
The person has a cognitive delay, as determined by standardized measures such as intelligent quotient or "IQ" testing or other measures which are generally accepted within the professional community in that Accredited Program's nation as being a reliable measurement of the existence of a cognitive delay; or
The person has a closely related developmental disability. A "closely related developmental disability" means having functional limitations in both general learning (such as IQ) and in adaptive skills (such as in recreation, work, independent living, self-direction, or self-care). However, persons whose functional limitations are based solely on a physical, behavioral, 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.
Preserving Flexibility in Identifying Eligible Athletes
An Accredited Program may request limited permission from SOI to depart from the eligibility requirements identified in subsection (d) above if the Accredited Program believes that there are exceptional circumstances which warrant such a departure, and so notifies SOI in writing. SOI will consider such requests promptly, but shall have the final authority in determining whether any departure or exception is appropriate.
Registration of Athletes
Before participating in Special Olympics training and/or competition an eligible person, under Section 2.01, must register to participate with an Accredited Program. SOI may approve the policies, procedures, registration forms and materials used by all Accredited Programs for registering Special Olympics athletes. Registration as a Special Olympics athlete shall include the submission of the following:
(1) Athlete Data Form,
(2) Athlete Medical Form; and
(3) Athlete Release Form
Additional forms may include the following:
(1) Religious Objection Form; and/or
(2) Special Release for Athletes with Atlanto-axial Instability Form.
Athlete Data Form
Eligible persons desiring to register as Special Olympics athletes must complete and submit to an Accredited Program a standardized application for participation in Special Olympics that outlines the athlete's identifying information. The standardized applications used by Accredited Programs to register Special Olympics athletes are subject to SOI's approval, and must conform to the form entitled the “Athlete Data Form”. Accredited Programs may create an athlete data form for use within their respective jurisdictions, but only if all the content prescribed by the SOI-approved form is included in the form used by the Accredited Program, and no material may be added to that form that is inconsistent with these General Rules or the other Uniform Standards.
Athlete Medical Form
This form details the athlete’s medical background relevant to participation in Special Olympics, and contains a physician's or trained medical professional’s report and certification concerning the results of the initial physical examination required by subsection (f)(1) below.
Athlete Release Form
A properly signed standardized release must be submitted to the Accredited Program on behalf of every athlete as part of the athlete registration process. The standardized release shall grant the appropriate Special Olympics entities (e.g., the Accredited Program, SOI or a GOC) permission to make certain limited uses of an athlete's name and likeness (in accordance with Section 2.03), acknowledge the potential impact on an athlete with Down syndrome of participating in certain sports, and authorize the appropriate Special Olympics entities (e.g., the Accredited Program, SOI, or a GOC) to make arrangements for emergency medical treatment when necessary. The content and format of the release shall be subject to SOI's approval and must conform to the release form entitled "Official Special Olympics Release Form," and any supplement or amendment to that form, approved by SOI (the "Athlete Release Form"). In order to ensure uniformity in the content of the releases which Special Olympics athletes or their parents are asked to sign, all Accredited Programs must use the SOI-described Athlete Release Form unless otherwise authorized in writing by SOI (including any modifications required by law). The Athlete Release Form must be signed by an adult athlete or by the parent or guardian of any athlete who is legally a minor.
Religious Objections Release Form
If any athlete or the parents of a minor athlete has religious objections to emergency medical treatment as set forth in the Athlete Release Form the Accredited Program may permit such athletes or parents to delete or strike out the provisions of the Athlete Release Form which contain the authorization for emergency medical treatment (but not any other provisions of the Athlete Release Form). If the authorization for emergency treatment has been stricken out, such athletes or parents shall sign and submit a separate release form addressing how medical emergencies are to be handled (the “Religious Objections Form”). The Religious Objections Form must be signed by an adult athlete or by the parent or guardian of an athlete who is legally a minor.
Physical Examination Requirements
(1) Examination Required as Part of Initial Registration. All athletes seeking to register for participation in Special Olympics for the first time must be medically cleared before that registration by a physician or trained medical professional who is not a physician but who is authorized or licensed under the laws of the Accredited Program's jurisdiction to perform medical examinations and make medical diagnoses (collectively, a "Licensed Medical Professional"), and have that Licensed Medical Professional complete the Athlete Medical Form.
(2) Subsequent Medical Examinations Required by an Accredited Program. An athlete who completes the initial registration process for participation in Special Olympics and who then continues that participation over a period of more than one year shall be required by the relevant Accredited Program to seek follow-up medical advice before continuing his/her Special Olympics participation if that Accredited Program has a reasonable basis for believing that there has been a significant change in the athlete's health since the athlete’s most recent medical examination and certification was completed. In addition, an Accredited Program's Board of Directors/Program Committee may impose more stringent requirements on the athletes registered by that Accredited Program concerning the frequency of required medical examinations than those which are imposed by subsection (1) above. However, no Accredited Program may dispense with the requirement that each athlete be examined at least once by a Licensed or trained Medical Professional as part of his/her initial registration with Special Olympics.
(3) Procedures and Forms Used by Accredited Programs. Every Accredited Program shall develop procedures and use standardized forms for confirming that all registered athletes have obtained the required medical examination, and for obtaining reports from health professionals concerning the results of any examinations required after the initial examination required for registration. All such procedures and forms shall be subject to SOI's ongoing review and approval.
(4) Procedures for Regional and World Games. Every athlete participating in Regional Games, Regional U.S. Games and/or World Games shall establish that he/she has been examined by a Licensed Medical Professional within the one (1) year that immediately precedes the starting date for those Games. SOI or the appropriate GOC responsible for the Games in question will provide Accredited Programs with approved medical reporting forms for this purpose.
Participation by Individuals Who Have Symptoms of Spinal Cord Compression Including Symptomatic Atlanto-axial Instability
Compression of the spinal cord at any vertebral level, including at the level of the cervical
vertebrae C-1 and C-2 in the neck, known as Atlanto-axial instability (AAI), may expose
individuals to possible injury if they participate in activities that radically move the vertebrae at
the area of compression. Resultant hyperextension or radical flexion of the neck or upper
spine could produce significant injury. Accredited Programs must take the following
precautions before permitting athletes who, during a physical examination demonstrate
symptoms of spinal cord compression and/or symptomatic AAI to participate in certain physical
(1) Determination of Symptoms: All Athletes, when they receive the standard preparticipation
physical examination referred to in this Article 2, must be examined by a
Licensed Medical Professional for symptoms of adverse neurological effects, including
those that could result from spinal cord compression or symptomatic AAI. Such symptoms
may include: significant neck pain, radicular pain (localized neurological pain), weakness,
numbness, spasticity (unusual “tightness” of certain muscles) or change in muscle tone,
gait difficulties, hyperreflexia (highly reactive deep tendon reflexes), change in bowel or
bladder function or other signs or symptoms of myelopathy (injury to the spinal cord).
(2) Presence of Symptoms. If a Licensed Medical Professional confirms the presence of
symptomatic spinal cord compression and/or symptomatic AAI during the medical
examination of an athlete, such athlete may be permitted to participate in the Special
Olympics sport of the athlete’s choice only if (i) the athlete has received a thorough
neurological evaluation from a physician, qualified to make such a determination, who
certifies that the athlete may participate and the athlete, or the parent or guardian of a
minor athlete, has signed an informed consent acknowledging they have been informed of
the findings and determinations of the physician. The statements and certifications
required by this subsection shall be documented and provided to Accredited Programs
using the standardized form approved by SOI, entitled "Special Release for Athletes with
Symptomatic Spinal Cord Compression and/or symptomatic Atlanto-axial Instability," and
any revisions of that form, approved by SOI (the "Special Release Concerning Spinal Cord
Compression and/or symptomatic Atlanto-axial Instability").
Participation in Special Olympics Unified Sports®
Each Accredited Program shall require a person wishing to participate in Special Olympics as a Unified Sports ® Partner (as described in Section 3.11) to complete and sign a standardized application and release form approved by SOI, which shall satisfy the requirements for Class A volunteers, and shall conform to the application and release form entitled "Application for Participation in Special Olympics by a Special Olympics Unified Sports® Partner" or any amendment or supplement to that form approved by SOI (the "Special Olympics Unified Sports® Partner Release Form"). Such form shall be signed by every Special Olympics Unified Sports® Partner who is an adult, or by his or her parent or guardian if that athlete is a minor.
Submission of Required Forms
Accredited Programs are obligated to ensure that all application and registration materials, including if applicable, medical reports and certifications, required by this Section 2.02 are properly completed and submitted by each athlete, or by his/her parent or guardian, before permitting that athlete to participate in any Special Olympics training or competition.
Use of Athletes' Names and Likenesses
Permissible Uses; Required Consents
No Accredited Program or GOC, corporate sponsor or other organizational supporter or donor of any Accredited Program or GOC, or any other party acting under authority of an Accredited Program or GOC, may use, display, broadcast, reproduce or publish the name or likeness of any Special Olympics athlete for any purpose whatsoever, except those expressly authorized in the Athlete Release Form (pursuant to Section 2.02 (d)) signed by or on behalf of that athlete at the time of his/her initial registration with Special Olympics, without obtaining a separate additional written consent from that athlete, or from the parent or guardian of a minor athlete. If such a separate consent is required because the proposed use of an athlete's name or likeness will go beyond the purposes permitted by the Athlete Release Form, that separate consent shall clearly identify when, where and how the athlete's name and likeness will be used, the nature and purpose of the activity in connection with which that use will occur, including whether the activity involves the marketing or sale of commercial products or services, and what monetary benefit, if any, the Accredited Program or GOC expects to receive as a result of that activity. SOI reserves the right to prohibit an Accredited Program or GOC from using an athlete's name or likeness in ways which go beyond the purposes permitted by the Athlete Release Form, if SOI determines that the proposed use is contrary to the best interests of Special Olympics. No Accredited Program shall knowingly permit the name or likeness of any Special Olympics athlete to be exploited for commercial purposes. The publicity release contained in the Athlete Release Form is intentionally limited by SOI to authorization for the use of an athlete's name, likeness, voice and words for the purpose of promoting and publicizing the purpose of Special Olympics and/or applying for or raising funds for the support of Special Olympics programs, and does not include commercial activities or the marketing or endorsement of commercial products or services.
Manner of Use
An Accredited Program must ensure that any athlete's name, likeness, voice or words, when used by the Accredited Program or by any of its sponsors or other supporters in ways that conform to the permissions granted in the Athlete Release Form, will also be used at all times in a manner that respects the dignity of the athlete and preserves the public image of Special Olympics. Accredited Programs shall require, wherever possible, that an athlete's name be published along with his or her photograph if the photograph contains a discernible likeness of that athlete, and if the publication or display of both the athlete's name and likeness are otherwise permitted by that athlete's executed Athlete Release Form.
Releases from Athletes
Special Olympics athletes (or the parents or guardians of Special Olympics athletes who are minors) may not be required by Accredited Programs or GOCs to sign any release or waiver as a condition for their initial or continuing participation in any Games or other Special Olympics training or competition except for the releases set forth in the Athlete Release Form, and, where applicable, the Religious Objections Form and the Special Release Concerning Atlanto-axial Instability. Unless otherwise approved by SOI, no Accredited Program or GOC, or any party acting on their behalf or with their authority, shall request or obtain any other type of general waiver of legal rights or release of liability from any Special Olympics athlete. The preceding sentence specifically prohibits the use of so-called "general releases" or waivers of liability by an athlete for injuries suffered by an athlete during the course of his or her participation in Special Olympics or in events held or sponsored by organizational supporters of Special Olympics.
Participation by Persons Who Are Blood-Borne Contagious Disease Carriers
No Accredited Program or GOC may exclude or isolate from participation in any Special Olympics training or competition any athlete who is known to be a carrier of a blood-borne contagious infection or virus, or otherwise discriminate against such athletes solely because of that medical condition. In view of the risk that one or more Special Olympics athletes may have a blood-borne contagious infection or virus, in conducting Special Olympics training and competition events, Accredited Programs and GOC's shall follow so-called "Universal Precautions" or "Universal Blood and Body Fluid Precautions" for every exposure to any person's blood, saliva or other bodily fluid. SOI shall keep Accredited Programs apprised of the written Universal Precautions which meet the requirements of this Section 2.05.
Counting and Reporting Participating Athletes
A Special Olympics Athlete is currently defined as a person who: is eligible to participate; registers to participate in accordance with these General Rules; trains at an Official Sport or Recognized Sport for a minimum of eight weeks during a calendar year; and competes in a local, state, or Program Special Olympics competition according to Special Olympics standards or participates in a Motor Activities Training Program. SOI shall approve a standardized methodology pursuant to Section 5.06(c), which shall prescribe the standards and methods used by all Accredited Programs for counting and reporting on the numbers of registered and participating Special Olympics Athletes, and the numbers of Unified Partners who participate in Special Olympics Unified Sports®, in their respective jurisdictions. SOI shall keep Accredited Programs regularly informed of the approved methods for counting and reporting on participating athletes through periodic written policy directives to all Accredited Programs. SOI may revise definitions, clarification and directions as it deems appropriate (including the definition of a Special Olympics athlete) from time to time. Such revisions shall not be considered an amendment to the General Rules. In particular cases, SOI may grant particular Accredited Programs permission to depart from the standardized methodology approved by SOI, if SOI is satisfied that the data which are gathered and reported by that Accredited Program are otherwise reliable and fairly state the number of eligible and participating athletes in that Accredited Program's jurisdiction.