The meaning of the Special Olympics World Summer Games

Special Olympics World Games offer a world stage to showcase the Special Olympics movement and to celebrate the abilities and accomplishments of people with intellectual disabilities. In doing so, they foster a new global vision of acceptance.

Special Olympics World Games celebrate the year-round efforts and achievements of the movement’s athletes; they also create lasting legacies of positive change in participating countries.

Alternating between summer and winter, the Special Olympics World Games are one of the world’s largest sporting events, drawing as many if not more athletes than the Olympics. Every two years since 1968, athletes from more than 180 nations have gathered to celebrate sport and showcase the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities. This prominent world stage brings attention to the Special Olympics movement and helps create positive, sometimes life-saving policy change for people with intellectual disabilities in countries around the world.

The bravery of athletes competing at World Games inspires participating nations and brings much-needed attention to the conditions of people with intellectual disabilities within their borders. At the same time, the World Games provide opportunity for cross-cultural conversations about how to foster inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. Athletes, families, volunteers, world leaders and Special Olympics celebrity ambassadors convene at the Games to attend policy summits, exchange ideas and talk to the public about the life-changing transformations Special Olympics brings about in participants and communities.

The World Games are also catalysts for change within the countries that host them. World Games stimulate local economies and create momentum for citizen engagement by promoting grass-roots volunteerism – as seen in Ireland during the 2003 World Games, when 30,000 people from across the nation volunteered to work at Games in Dublin.

This catalyzing effect extends beyond communities to include governments as well. Ireland passed a new disability act after it hosted the 2003 World Games. And leading up to the 2007 World Summer Games in Shanghai, China unveiled an unprecedented five-year government growth plan that included new educational, job and health care opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities across the nation.

Special Olympics Founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver does the best job of summing up the power of the World Games: “Special Olympics is one ‘issue’ any local or national government can and will support once they have the unique experience of hosting a World Games and learning more about these athletes. I say this emphatically because it has happened after every World Games in our history. It always happens.”

SO World Summer Games

  Year Place No. of Athletes Participated Country/Region Participated
1 1968 Chicago, Illinois, USA 1000 2
2 1970 Chicago, Illinois, USA 2000 4
3 1972 California-Los Angeles, USA 2500 1
4 1975 Michigan, USA 3200 10
5 1979 New York State, USA 3500 20
6 1983 Louisiana, USA 4000 1
7 1987 Indiana, USA 4700 70
8 1991 Minnesota, USA 6000 100
9 1995 New Haven, Connecticut, USA 7000 143
10 1999 North Carolina, USA 7000 150
11 2003 Dublin, Ireland 7000 150
12 2007 Shanghai, China 7182 164

SO World Winter Games

  Year Place No. of Athletes Participated Country/Region Participated
1 1977 Colorado, USA 500 1
2 1981 Vermont, USA 600 1
3 1985 Utah, USA   14
4 1989 Nevada, USA 1000 18
5 1993 Salzburg and Schladming, Austria 1600 50
6 1997 Ontario, Canada 2000 73
7 2001 Alaska, USA 1800 70
8 2005 Nagano, Japan 1800 84
9 2009 Idaho, USA 2000 100

“I firmly believe Special Olympics

is more than just a program of sports,

training and competition;

it’s a strong statement

of optimism about human life. “

William J. Clinton
Former president of the United States of America



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