Special Olympics is independent of the Olympics and Paralympics.

This is a often confusing as we all share the transformative power of sport. Special Olympics is independent of both the Olympics and Paralympics.

For more than 50 years, Special Olympics Canada has enriched the lives of Canadians with an intellectual disability – of all ages and skill levels – through the transformative power of sport.

More than 17,500 volunteers, coaches and officials across the country provide high-quality every-day programming and services to Special Olympics athletes from age two to 70-plus, at both the recreational/community and competitive level. Programs include health, nutrition, leadership and skills training.

Our vision is that sport will open hearts and minds towards people with intellectual disabilities and create inclusive communities all across Canada.


How do Special Olympics and Paralympics differ?

Special Olympics and Paralympics are two separate organizations recognized by the IOC. They are similar in that they both focus on sport for athletes with a disability run by international non-profit organizations. Special Olympics welcomes athletes with intellectual disabilities, of a wide variety of ability levels, to train and compete in 35 sports. To be eligible to participate in Special Olympics, athletes must have an intellectual disability – either a cognitive delay or a development disability, that is, functional limitations in both general learning and adaptive skills. (They may also have a physical disability.) Paralympics includes athletes from six main disability categories: amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, visually impaired, spinal injuries and Les Autres (French for "the others," a category that includes conditions that do not fall into the aforementioned categories). To participate in the Paralympic Games, athletes have to fulfill certain criteria and meet certain qualifying standards.


What is the difference in the sporting philosophies of Special Olympics and Paralympics?

Special Olympics believes deeply in the power of sport to help all who participate to reach their potential. It does not exclude any athlete based on qualifying scores, but rather divisions the athletes based on those scores for fair competition against others of like ability. For Special Olympics athletes, excellence is personal achievement, a reflection of reaching one's maximum potential – a goal to which everyone can aspire. To participate in the Paralympic Games, athletes have to fulfill certain criteria and meet certain qualifying standards. The Paralympics are about elite performance sport, where athletes go through a stringent qualification process so that the best, or highest qualified based on performance, are allowed to compete at Games.