Special Olympics is an international nonprofit organization* dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition. Special Olympics offers children and adults with intellectual disabilities year-round training and competition in 30 Olympic-type summer and winter sports.
Special Olympics currently serves 2.5 million people with intellectual disabilities in more than 200 Programs in 165 countries. Those numbers are the result of an overwhelmingly successful Campaign for Growth that began in 2000. That year, Special Olympics made a bold commitment to reach 2 million athletes by the end of 2005, while simultaneously changing attitudes about people with intellectual disabilities around the world. Over the course of those five years, in addition to providing more than 1 million more athletes the opportunity to experience the joy of sport, Special Olympics transformed itself.
Today, Special Olympics stands as a leader in the field of intellectual disability. It is a truly global movement, with more than 500,000 athletes in China, more than 210,000 in India, almost 550,000 in the United States, more than 600 in Afghanistan and 4,400 athletes in Rwanda. Special Olympics World Games were held in Ireland in 2003 and Japan in 2005 and, in 2007, China will host the World Summer Games. Most importantly, Special Olympics sharpened the focus on its mission as not just "nice," but critical, not just as a sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities, but also as an effective catalyst for social change.
Children and adults with intellectual disabilities who participate in Special Olympics develop improved physical fitness and motor skills, greater self-confidence and a more positive self-image. They grow mentally, socially and spiritually and, through their activities, exhibit boundless courage and enthusiasm, enjoy the rewards of friendship and ultimately discover not only new abilities and talents but "their voices" as well.
The Special Olympics movement aims to achieve quality growth by creating innovative opportunities to bring the Special Olympics experience to more of the world's 190 million people with intellectual disabilities. At the same time, Special Olympics will work to create positive public attitudes toward a population that is often rejected or forgotten.
Within the last five years Special Olympics has made great strides toward active worldwide growth in the number of athletes — between 2000 and 2005 participation in Special Olympics grew at a 129 percent rate with Special Olympics Programs reaching out to 1,270,760 new athletes. The quest is far from complete: the new Special Olympics 2006-2010 Strategic Plan calls for reaching 3 million athletes by the end of 2010, all the while maintaining the quality of the program.
We will promote global athlete leadership and dedicate the movement to empowerment and dignity, not charity.
We will change negative attitudes and misperceptions about people with intellectual disabilities, replacing stigma and rejection with an emphasis on potential, ability and acceptance.