The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving 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.
Five Decades of Empowerment
The Special Olympics mission remains as vital today as it did when the movement was founded in 1968. Special Olympics strives to create a better world by fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people.
Through the power of sports, people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills and success. Our athletes find joy, confidence and fulfillment — on the playing field and in life. They also inspire people in their communities and elsewhere to open their hearts to a wider world of human talents and potential.
There are as many as 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world. Our goal is to reach out to every one of them – and their families as well. Special Olympics does this through a wide range of trainings, competitions, health screenings and events. We also create opportunities for families, community members, local leaders, businesses, law enforcement, celebrities, dignitaries and others to band together to change attitudes and support athletes.
One Woman’s Vision
Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed in justice. But, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she saw little justice in the way people with intellectual disabilities were treated.
She saw they were excluded and routinely placed in custodial institutions. They were often ignored and neglected, yet she knew they had many talents and gifts to offer.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver had a sister, Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. She and Rosemary grew up playing sports together and with their family. The sisters swam, they sailed, they skied, they played football together. But in those days, there were limited programs and options that addressed and accommodated Rosemary’s needs.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver went on to become an athlete in college. She began to see that sports could be a common ground to unite people from all walks of life.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed that if people with intellectual disabilities were given the same opportunities and experiences as everyone else, they could accomplish far more than anyone ever thought possible.
She put that vision into action in 1962 by inviting young people with intellectual disabilities to a summer day camp she hosted in her backyard. She called it “Camp Shriver.” The goal was to explore the children’s skills in a variety of sports and physical activities. The idea behind that first Camp Shriver began to grow. In July 1968, the first International Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Learn more about the events leading up to the founding of Special Olympics.
In her remarks at the Opening Ceremony, she said the inaugural Chicago Special Olympics prove “a very fundamental fact” — that children with intellectual disabilities can be exceptional athletes and that “through sports they can realize their potential for growth.” She pledged that this new organization, Special Olympics, would offer people with intellectual disabilities everywhere “the chance to play, the chance to compete and the chance to grow.”
What began as one woman’s vision evolved into Special Olympics International — a global movement that today serves more than 4.7 million people with intellectual disabilities in 170 countries.