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First Step: Introduction

What is Special Olympics?

Special Olympics is a global movement that unleashes the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sport, promotes social inclusion and builds inclusive communities for people with intellectual disabilities (ID) around the world. Through programming in SPORTS, HEALTH, EDUCATION, and LEADERSHIP, Special Olympics promotes equal rights and opportunities for people with ID.


To provide year-round sports training & athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. This gives 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.


Through sport, we will open hearts and minds towards people with intellectual disabilities and create inclusive communities all over the world.


Improve local sports participation and well being of athletes to strengthen communities; Remove barriers to inclusion and expand our reach through digital technology.

Levels of Special Olympics Operations

Local Club

  • Organizes Special Olympics in a local community
  • Engages athletes, families and siblings, coaches and volunteers
  • Organized according to Accredited Program rules and this guide


  • Organizes national, state and local events and Games
  • Often is divided into sub-Programs (by province, county or similar geographic area within Country/State)
  • Provides Local Clubs with guidance, support, information, resources, policies and procedures


  • Supports implementation of SOI rules & policies regionally
  • Supports development and roll-out of Special Olympics resources
  • Provides support to National and State Programs in the Region
  • Organizes Regional events and Games


  • Provides global resources
  • Guides overall strategic direction
  • Accredits National and State level Special Olympics Programs
  • Organizes global events and Games
Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.
Local Club is a local branch of the Special Olympics National/State Program that offers sport and non-sport activities. The importance of the Local Club level of the organization cannot be emphasized enough. It is at the Local Club grassroots level of the movement where communities of inclusion are built, and everyone’s abilities are appreciated.

Who is involved?

A Local Club is open for anyone to become a member: people with and without intellectual disabilities, their families, and volunteers from all backgrounds


Community members and students can volunteer as coaches, sports officials, fundraisers, and in club management roles. Youth volunteers are key ensuring club sustainability.

Families of people with ID

Families and siblings are encouraged to participate in Special Olympics as volunteers, coaches, healthy lifestyle promoters.

Unified Partners

People without ID regularly training and competing with athletes as part of Unified Sports team where every player is treated equally.


To train and compete as a Special Olympics athlete, an individual must be identified as having an intellectual disability (ID) and 8+ years old.

What is the purpose of a Local Club?


To offer ongoing training and competition opportunities for people with and without ID, according to Special Olympics rules and guidelines.


To bring people together in a welcoming and inclusive environment that gives people with and without ID a sense of community.


To promote a healthy lifestyle, fitness, nutrition and well being of everyone in the community.


To develop leaders with and without ID who will expand the Local Club, strengthen their leadership skills, and set a strong leadership example for everyone.


To create a fun, open environment where people can enjoy sports and social activities.