We would like to invite you to the celebration of Special Olympics Incorporated's 50th Anniversary. In 1968 an amazing woman by the name of Eunice Kennedy Shriver invited athletes from around the globe to participate in our first event at Soldier Field in Chicago.

In ancient Rome, the gladiators went into the arena with these words on their lips:
'Let me WIN.
But if I cannot win, let me be BRAVE in the attempt.'

During that time we started a global movement of inclusion and acceptance that's still going strong. So we invite you to be a part of the movement. Be a part of the Celebration.

Play Unified. Live unified.

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Special Olympics Celebrations & Happenings

Unified Cup

17 to 20 July 2018
Chicago, Illinois, USA

The inaugural Special Olympics Unified Cup competition will team people with and without intellectual disabilities from all over the world. A total of 24 football/soccer teams -- from every region of the world -- will take part. These include 16 men's teams and eight women's teams. The four-day event will be held at Toyota Park.

50th Anniversary Torch Run and Eternal Flame of Hope

20 July 2018
Chicago, Illinois, USA

The Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Law Enforcement Torch Run Commemorative Run will include Special Olympics athletes and law enforcement officers from Illinois and elsewhere.

In addition, Chicago will mark a citywide salute to 50 years of Special Olympics. The entire city will light up with a new eternal "Flame of Hope" -- symbolizing a world of welcome and inclusion, where everyone can learn, work, compete and play with the same rights and opportunities.

Global Day of Inclusion

21 July 2018
Chicago, Illinois, USA and around the world

Soldier Field, the birthplace of Special Olympics, will host a massive celebration, a festival of inclusion that will serve as the spark for people around the world to commit to making their cities more inclusive. This family friendly festival will offer sports activities, interactive games, exhibits, delicious food offerings, and live entertainment. As evening comes, the excitement - and crowds - will build for a star-studded evening of inspiring entertainment for more than 30,000 at Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island -- and a live audience around the world.

Special Olympics Through the Years



June 1962

Eunice Kennedy Shriver starts an innovative summer camp for young people with intellectual disabilities at her home in suburban Washington, D.C. The goal is to see if these young people - most of whom lived in institutions -- could participate in sports and physical activities. This was a revolutionary idea at the time.


July 1968

The first International Special Olympics Summer Games are held at Soldier Field in Chicago -- a joint venture between the Kennedy Foundation and the Chicago Park District. The advisory committee to the Chicago Special Olympics includes Dr. William Freeberg, Southern Illinois University; Dr. Frank J. Hayden, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation; Dr. Arthur Peavy; William McFetridge, Anne McGlone Burke and Stephen Kelly of the Chicago Park District; and Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson. Eunice Kennedy Shriver is honorary chairman. Dr. Hayden was also executive director of the games.



December 1971

The U.S. Olympic Committee gives Special Olympics official approval as the only other organization authorized to use the name “Olympics” in the United States.


February 1977

The first-ever International Special Olympics Winter Games are held in Steamboat Springs, Colo., USA. More than 500 athletes compete in skiing and skating events. CBS, ABC and NBC television networks cover the Games.



June 1981

The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics (LETR) is launched in Wichita, Kansas, USA, after Police Chief Richard LaMunyon saw an urgent need to raise awareness for Special Olympics. LETR is now Special Olympics’ largest grassroots fundraiser, raising more than $56 million annually.


September 1986

The United Nations launches the International Year of Special Olympics. The theme is “Special Olympics—Uniting the World.”


July 1987

More than 30,000 law enforcement officers from all 50 U.S. states and seven different countries run 26,000 miles and raise $2 million in the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

October 1987

“A Very Special Christmas,” a benefit album featuring holiday music by top rock 'n' roll performers, is released worldwide. It is produced by Jimmy and Vicki Iovine of A&M Records and Bobby Shriver, with all earnings going to Special Olympics. More than 2 million records, compact discs and cassette tapes are sold.


February 1988

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) signs a historic agreement with Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver officially endorsing and recognizing Special Olympics.

July 1988

Special Olympics Unified Sports is launched at the annual Special Olympics Conference in Reno, Nevada, and Lake Tahoe, California. Bowling, volleyball and softball are the first sports to be included.



March 1993

The 1993 International Winter Games in Austria set national records for media coverage. These Games also marked the first time a head of state took part in Opening Ceremony.


July 1995

Several new initiatives make their debut at the 9th Special Olympics World Summer Games in New Haven, Conn., USA. These include the Host Town Program, Healthy Athletes®, and Research and Policy Symposia. In addition, for the first time, people with intellectual disabilities serve as certified officials.


January 1997

Healthy Athletes becomes an official Special Olympics initiative, providing health-care services to Special Olympics athletes worldwide. The program includes free vision, hearing and dental screening, injury prevention clinics and nutrition education. The Healthy Athletes program has provided more than 1.7 million free health examinations in more than 130 countries since its creation in 1997.


July 1998

Special Olympics celebrates its 30th anniversary with the introduction of the first Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers. These 12 remarkable men and women travel the world as spokespeople for the rights and respect for people with intellectual disabilities over a two-year term.

December 1998

U.S. President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton host “A Very Special Christmas from Washington, D.C.” It's the first time the White House hosts a Special Olympics gala and the first time that artists from “A Very Special Christmas” album series gather together to perform. In 2000, President and Mrs. Clinton host “A Very Special Christmas” for the second time.



January 2000

The “Campaign for Special Olympics” sets unprecedented goals to increase athlete participation by 1 million and to raise more than $120 million over a five-year period. This global campaign changes the face of the Special Olympics movement.

May 2000

Arnold Schwarzenegger joins Special Olympics athletes to light the Flame of Hope at the Great Wall of China. They launch the Special Olympics China Millennium March. China pledges to increase its number of athletes from 50,000 to 500,000 by 2005.
The first Global Athlete Congress takes place in The Hague, Netherlands. Special Olympics athletes from every region in the world come together to discuss the future of the Special Olympics movement. Despite differences in language, culture, age and gender they hold discussions, challenge existing ideas and vote on new resolutions.


July 2001

Cape Town, Johannesburg and Sun City, South Africa host Special Olympics African Hope. Former President Nelson Mandela, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Special Olympics athletes gather to light the Flame of Hope and kick off the largest Law Enforcement Torch Run through the streets of Cape Town. The event generates awareness of the movement throughout the continent. It also launches a major push to reach 100,000 new athletes in Africa by 2005.

October 2001

Special Olympics develops and distributes So Get Into It® kits for students with and without disabilities to schools and teachers worldwide at no cost. They teach young people about intellectual disabilities while empowering them to “be the difference.” The lessons highlight values of inclusion, acceptance and respect.


July 2002

The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund partners with Special Olympics to host an annual birthday celebration for its founder and chairperson, former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, and helps Special Olympics launch its Unified Sports program.


June 2003

Ireland hosts the first Special Olympics World Summer Games to be held outside the United States. 5,500 athletes participate in this landmark event. It is the world's largest sporting event in 2003, capturing the hearts and imaginations of the Irish people.


October 2004

U.S. President George W. Bush signs the “Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act." This gives $15 million every year for five years to Special Olympics programs. The funding goes to initiatives that encourage greater respect and understanding for people with intellectual disabilities. This marks the first time that Special Olympics secures support through legislation.


December 2005

"The Ringer," a Farrelly Brothers film starring Johnny Knoxville, opens in theaters throughout Canada and the United States. The film includes appearances from more than 150 Special Olympics athletes. Its producers work with Special Olympics to challenge destructive stereotypes and negative thinking about people with intellectual disabilities.


Special Olympics surpasses its goal of doubling the number of athletes who participate worldwide to 2.5 million participants. With sports at the core, the movement stands as a leader in advancing rights and opportunities and policy change for its athletes in 165 countries worldwide.

June 2006

U.S. President and Mrs. George W. Bush host a tribute dinner at the White House to honor Special Olympics for its unprecedented growth over the past five years. The event also celebrates the 85th birthday of founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver.


October 2007

The city of Shanghai, China, hosts the 12th Special Olympics World Summer Games in 2007. The Games are broadcast internationally on a vast scale. Participation is at a record high -- bringing together more than 7,500 athletes from 164 countries take part.

These Games debut a new initiative called Young Athletes, aimed at children with intellectual disabilities ages 2 to 7.


July 2008

40 Years

Special Olympics celebrates its 40th anniversary as a true global movement, with nearly 3 million athletes in more than 180 countries, including Afghanistan, shown above.


May 2009

The U.S. National Portrait Gallery unveils a historic portrait of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. It is the first portrait the Gallery has ever commissioned of an individual who has not served as a U.S. President or First Lady.

August 2009

The founder of Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, dies at her family home in Massachusetts. Letters and messages celebrating her contribution to humanity pour in from world leaders and people from around the world.
Learn about the life and legacy of our founder at www.eunicekennedyshriver.org



June 2010

The first Special Olympics Global Congress is held in Marrakech, Morocco. Hundreds of Special Olympics leaders from around the world gather to chart the next five years of work. This gathering is called following the 2009 passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the global Special Olympics movement.

September 2010

The first global Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day is held in more than 100 countries to celebrate the vision of the founder of Special Olympics. Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day is an annual celebration of her life and a global call to action for people to live in a more unified society -- in sport, in the community and in the work place. By performing acts of inclusion, acceptance and unity for and with people with intellectual disabilities, we will continue to build on Eunice Kennedy Shriver's legacy. Learn more about Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day


January 2011

The Special Olympics movement mourns the death of Sargent Shriver, husband of late founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. He was a longtime Special Olympics President and Chairman of the Board Emeritus.

June-July 2011

The 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games are held in Athens, Greece. More than 6,000 athletes from 170 countries take part.


March 2012

Special Olympics' global reach hits a new milestone, with more than 4 million athletes participating in programs around the world.


January 2013

Opening of the first Special Olympics Global Development Summit. The event brings together government officials, human rights activists, as well as leaders from the sports and business worlds to explore ways to "End the Cycle of Poverty and Exclusion for People with Intellectual Disabilities." The summit is held as part of the Special Olympics World Winter Games 2013.

January 2013

The Special Olympics World Winter Games in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea, features more than 2,300 athletes from 100 countries. It was held from 29 January to 5 February.

February 2013

At the World Winter Games in PyeongChang, more athletes receive free health screenings in a single day during the 2013 games than at any other time in the history of the Healthy Athletes program: 2,569 screenings on 1 February alone.

March 2013

The Special Olympics Bharat program in India welcomes its one-millionth registered athlete.

May 2013

The latest annual census shows Special Olympics reaching new milestones in growth: more than 4.2 million athletes and 70,000 competitions around the world.

September 2013

The Walt Disney Company, ESPN and Special Olympics announce a two-year global initiative that will use the power of sports to promote an environment of social inclusion and acceptance. This effort will unite people with and without intellectual disabilities (ID) through Special Olympics Unified Sports. With a multi-million dollar financial and in-kind investment, Disney and ESPN will support Special Olympics’ goal of registering 1 million Unified Sports participants, including athletes (individuals with ID), partners (individuals without ID) and coaches by 2015.


February 2014

Her Excellency President Joyce Banda of the Republic of Malawi hosts the first-ever African Leaders Forum on Disability in partnership with Special Olympics. The effort spearheads collaboration among the region's Heads of States to develop a more inclusive Africa.

May 2014

Special Olympics' global reach expands to 4.4 million athletes around the world. Census numbers also show that as many as 80,000 events and competitions are held annually.

July 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host “Celebration for Special Olympics and a Unified Generation” at the White House. Some of the world’s leading social activists, business leaders, sports legends and entertainers attended the event, which saluted the work of Special Olympics in engaging young people to fight inactivity, intolerance and injustice in their schools and communities.


May 2015

The latest census numbers show Special Olympics has expanded its reach to more than 4.5 million athletes worldwide. In one year alone, more than 94,000 Special Olympics events and competitions were held all around the world.

July 2015

The 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games are held in Los Angeles, Calif., USA, 25 July to 2 August. More than 6,200 athletes and Unified partners from 165 countries take part in competitions in 25 sports. Learn more

July 2015

The Golisano Foundation announces a $25 million gift to expand the reach and impact of the Special Olympics global health program -- the largest single donation ever received by Special Olympics. This is in addition to Tom Golisano's previous gift of $12 million, announced in 2012.


May 2016

Mary Davis of Dublin, Ireland is named Chief Executive Officer. A longtime Special Olympics volunteer, leader and Regional President, Davis is the first CEO from outside the U.S. in Special Olympics' nearly 50-year history. Learn more

June 2016

Special Olympics exceeds its ambitious goal of getting 1 million athletes and partners involved in Unified Sports, bringing together people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. There are now more than 1.2 million Unified teammates -- thanks to the support of ESPN, the Global Presenting Sponsor of Unified Sports, the Samuel Family Foundation and Lions Clubs International.

July 2016

New census numbers show that Special Olympics' reach has expanded to more than 5.3 million athletes and Unified partners -- a new global record. Athletes in nearly 170 countries took part in more than 108,000 games and competitions.


March 2017

The 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games are held in Graz and Schladming in Styria, Austria. This marked a return to Austria, site of the first Special Olympics World Games held outside the U.S.