Special Olympics World Games
The crowd at the Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony in Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland, 2003
GenreSporting event
FrequencyEvery two years
Inaugurated1968 (1968) (summer)
1977 (1977) (winter)

The Special Olympics World Games also known as Special Olympiad are an international sporting event for participants with intellectual disabilities, organized by the IOC-recognised Special Olympics organization.


Although local Special Olympics events and competitions are held around the world every day, the World Games are flagship events. The goal is to showcase the skills and accomplishments of people with intellectual disabilities on a global stage.[1] The World Games feature more than a week of competitions involving thousands of athletes. Through media coverage of the Games, the stories and achievements of children and adults with intellectual disabilities are made known to millions of people worldwide.[1]

Special Olympics World Games take place every two years and alternate between Summer and Winter Games, a schedule similar to the Olympics and Paralympics. Attracting as many as 350,000 volunteers and coaches, plus several thousands of athletes, these World Games can be the world's largest sporting event of the year.[1][2]

Special Olympics athletes can compete in 32 Olympic-style summer or winter sports. The athletes are adults and children with intellectual disabilities who can range from gifted, world-class competitors to average athletes to those with limited physical ability. It's a fundamental rule of Special Olympics competitions that athletes are matched up according to their ability and age. This “divisioning” process is an effort to make every competition fair, competitive and exciting for athletes as well as fans.[3]


The first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in Chicago, Illinois, US, in 1968, while the first International Special Olympics Winter Games were held in February 1977 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, US. In 1991, the name was officially changed from International Special Olympics Summer/Winter Games to Special Olympics World Summer/Winter Games.[4]

The 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games received more than half of its funding from private corporations. Olympic historian Bob Barney stated "companies that donate millions might want say in how an event is run", but also felt it positive since "it brings the games to a much larger viewing audience".[5]

In 2011, Special Olympics World Summer Games were held on June 25 – July 4 in Athens, Greece, involving 6,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from 170 countries.[2]

In 2013, the Special Olympics World Winter Games were held in PyeongChang, South Korea from Jan. 29 – Feb. 5. The Host Town program, in which families host Special Olympics athletes from around the world to help them acclimate to the host country and customs, began on Jan. 26, 2013.[6]

In 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games .[7] These games were the first Special Olympics World Summer Games held in the United States in 16 years since the 1999 Summer Games held in Raleigh, North Carolina.

In 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Graz and Schladming in Styria, Austria. This marked a return: Salzburg and Schladming, Austria hosted the fifth Special Olympics World Winter Games in 1993. These were the first Special Olympics World Games held outside the United States. The 2017 World Winter Games were held on March 14–25, 2017.[8]

Kazan, Russia was due to host the Winter Special Olympics between January 23–29, 2023.[9] Originally to be held in Åre and Östersund, Sweden however the Swedish Government withdrew its hosting rights in December 2019 due to financial problems. The event had been postponed to January 2023 due a rise of COVID-19 cases. Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the event was cancelled due to logistical and safety issues.[10]

The more recent Special Olympics World Summer Games were held June 17–25, 2023 in Berlin, Germany. These were the first Special Olympics World Games to be held in Germany.[11] Competitions were held in 24 sports.

Turin, Italy will host the next World Winter Games in March 2025. It will mark the first time that Italy has hosted the Special Olympics World Games.


1 Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was originally selected to host the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games.[12] Due to financial problems and the constant delay in reconstruction of the venues that originally hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, Sarajevo gave up hosting the Special Olympics and Boise, Idaho, was invited to host instead.[13]

2 It was planned that Åre and Östersund, Sweden, would host the 2021 World Winter Games between February 2 to 13, 2021.[14] However, on December 20, 2019, it was announced that the Swedish Paralympic Committee vetoed the necessary financing for the continuity of the event in the country, invalidating a promise made during the bid process.[15] On June 29, 2020, it was announced that Kazan would host the Winter Games in 2022.[16]


Official summer sports

See footnote[17]

Official winter sports

See footnote[17]

Recognized sports

Demonstration sports

Unified Cup (association football)

Unified Cup

Regional games


204 National Programs in 7 Continental Zones (Updated at December 17,2022):[18]

Number Region National Programs
1 Africa 40
2 Asia-Pacific 35
3 East Asia 6
4 Eurasia 58
5 Latin America 20
6 MENA 22
7 North America 23
Total Special Olympics 204

Asia Pacific Games

In 2013, Australia hosted the first ever Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games.[19]

Special Olympics European Games

USA Games

USA Games

Middle East and North Africa Games

MENA games[23]

Pan African Games

First ever Pan African Games in 2020 in Cairo, Egypt.

Latin American Games

Latin American Special Olympics Games:[26]

4th Latin American Special Olympics - Asunción, Paraguay 2024

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Special Olympics: World Games Overview". specialolympics.org. Archived from the original on 2017-09-08. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
  2. ^ a b "Special Olympics World Summer Games ATHENS 2011". Archived from the original on 2010-02-23. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
  3. ^ "Special Olympics: About Competitions Results Schedules". specialolympics.org. 14 August 2018.
  4. ^ "Special Olympics: History of Special Olympics". specialolympics.org.
  5. ^ Lindenfeld, Sarah (June 23, 1999). "Corporate gifts boost budget". The News & Observer. Raleigh, North Carolina. p. H18.
  6. ^ "Welcome World Winter Games PyeongChang 2013". 2013sopoc.org. Archived from the original on 2012-08-17. Retrieved 2012-08-16.
  7. ^ "2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games In Los Angeles 2015". La2015.org. Archived from the original on 2015-07-08. Retrieved 2012-08-16.
  8. ^ Austria to host 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games Archived 2014-06-04 at the Wayback Machine. October 12, 2012. Special Olympics official website. Retrieved 2014-06-21.
  9. ^ "Special Olympics Selects Kazan, Russia to Host Landmark World Winter Games in 2022". Special Olympics.
  10. ^ "Statement on Special Olympics World Winter Games in Kazan". Special Olympics website. 4 March 2022. Retrieved March 5, 2022.
  11. ^ "Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023".
  12. ^ "2009 Special Olympics To Take Place In Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina". GamesBid.com. 7 March 2005. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  13. ^ McLaughlin, Micah (June 14, 2006). "Special Olympics come to Idaho in 2009". The Arbiter. The Arbiter. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  14. ^ "Sweden selected to host the 2021 Special Olympics World Winter Games". Special Olympics. 20 December 2019.
  15. ^ "New Location for 2021 World Winter Games". Special Olympics.
  16. ^ "Special Olympics Selects Kazan, Russia to Host Landmark World Winter Games in 2022". Special Olympics.
  17. ^ a b Sports & Games. Special Olympics official website. Retrieved 2014-06-21.
  18. ^ "Special Olympics Regions".
  19. ^ Asia Pacific Games / Newcastle 2013. Special Olympics official website. Retrieved 2014-06-21.
  20. ^ "SOTX History".
  21. ^ "Groningen".
  22. ^ "Azerbaijani sportsmen to participate in European Special Olympics Summer Games (PHOTO)". 6 September 2014.
  23. ^ "Egypt Fact Sheet" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on December 17, 2021.
  24. ^ "Syrian Special Olympiad mission to the 8th Special Olympics MENA Regional Games honored in Cairo". 11 December 2014.
  25. ^ "2018 Special Olympics Middle-East / North Africa 9th Regional Games". 2 February 2018.
  26. ^ https://www.ip.gov.py/ip/ongoing-efforts-in-organizing-the-latin-american-special-olympics/