What Are Some Facts About the Special Olympics?

More than 4.5 million athletes from 170 countries compete in 32 team and individual sports in the Special Olympics, which is the only organization the International Olympic Committee allows to use the name "Olympics." A subset of the Special Olympics, Special Olympics Unified Sports, brings together people with and without intellectual disabilities to compete in team sports. Volunteer coaches, trainers, officials, managers and fund-raisers support the Special Olympics.

Special Olympics athletes play softball, soccer, gymnastics, floor hockey and golf. Other sports include athletics, basketball, tennis, volleyball and aquatics. Athletes are age 8 and up. The organization has a young athletes program for children 2 to 7.

Like the Olympics, Special Olympics' major world games happen every four years. As of 2016, the most recent world summer games were in 2015, when 6,500 athletes from 165 countries competed in Los Angeles. The Special Olympics organization conducts regional games more frequently. For example, in 2014 the organization put on games in Europe, Canada and the United States. Special Olympics athletes play in the games at venues around the world.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, founded the Special Olympics movement in 1962. She called it Camp Shriver, and in 1968 the games were renamed the Special Olympics. The Kennedys had a sister, Rosemary, with an intellectual disability.