Who Can Become a Special Olympics Athlete?

Programs are open to individuals with an intellectual disability and are designed to increase fitness levels, develop individual and/or team skills and to promote sportsmanship and fair play. No person shall, on the grounds of gender, race, religion, ability level, or financial constraint be excluded from participation. Overall, inclusion is preferred to exclusion when eligibility is in question. 

What about physical disabilities?

The primary focus of Special Olympics Canada is to enrich the lives of individuals with an intellectual disability through sport. Focus on intellectual disability is what differentiates Special Olympics from the Paralympics, which serves individuals with physical disabilities. The International Olympic Committee recognizes Special Olympics and Paralympics as two separate and distinct sport organizations, that meet the needs of two separate communities of athletes.

How much athletic skill or experience is needed?

Athletes of all ability levels are encouraged to participate in Special Olympics programs. Through the use of equitable divisioning, competitions are structured so that athletes compete with other athletes of similar abilities. 

Is there a minimum age to participate?

Each Special Olympics program has specific age guidelines, depending on the type of activity. Community based programs offer athletes the programs necessary to develop important skills required in sport and everyday life. You can start as early as two years of age, but you are never 'too old' to start!

Active Start and FUNdamentals are innovative play programs for children with intellectual disabilities that focus on physical literacy and basic motor skills development. Active Start and FUNdamentals are open to children between the ages of two and 12.

Special Olympics community and competitive programs, on the other hand, do have a minimum age requirement of eight years of age. Our competitive athlete programs start locally, and can grow to international competition depending on athlete wishes and development.  Please contact your local community for more information about the specific programs available near you.

Are there any other restrictions?

Participants must agree to the sport rules of Special Olympics Canada.  For full sport rules, please view our resources page.