Special Olympics (Sport)

The Special Olympics is an international program to provide individuals who have intellectual disabilities and are eight years of age or older with year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type summer and winter sports. Inaugurated in 1968, the Special Olympics was officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee on 15 Feb 1988. International headquarters are in Washington DC.

In June 1963, with support from the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation, Eunice Kennedy Shriver (sister of Pres. John F. Kennedy) started a summer day camp at her home in Rockville MD for children with mental retardation. Between 1963 and 1968, the Kennedy Foundation promoted the creation of dozens of similar camps in the United States and Canada. Special awards were developed for physical achievements, and by 1968 Shriver had persuaded the Chicago Park District to join with the Kennedy Foundation in sponsoring a “Special Olympics,” held at Soldier Field on 20 July. About 1,000 athletes from 26 US states and Canada participated. The games were such a success that, in December, Special Olympics, Inc. (now Special Olympics International), was founded, with chapters in the United States, Canada, and France. The first International Winter Special Olympics Games were held on 5-11 Feb 1977 (in Steamboat Springs CO). The number of participating countries proliferated so that by 2008 there were chapters in some 180 countries. Over 30,000 meets and tournaments are held worldwide each year, culminating in the International Special Olympics Games every two years, alternating between winter and summer sports and each lasting for eight or nine days.

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