In 2017, Special Olympics’ global push for unity, health and fitness had impact far beyond this year’s World Winter Games. In fact, the talents and skills of people with intellectual disabilities (ID) were opening hearts and minds all year long, thanks to more than 103,000 events and competitions held worldwide during this record-breaking year.
As the global leader in inclusive sports, Special Olympics also marked a significant Unified Sports milestone: as of 2017, we have brought together more than 1.6 million Unified Sports teammates in 214 countries around the world!
In total, the reach of the Special Olympics movement has grown to 5.2 million athletes with intellectual disabilities and nearly 900,000 Unified teammates.
Every day, Special Olympics is creating new and exciting ways to unite the world through sports. Our vision of an inclusive world starts early – with the exciting Young Athletes program, which brings together children with and without intellectual disabilities (ID) for fun and play. In 2017, Young Athletes – for ages 2 to 7 -- expanded to 308,000 children in 178 countries, now changing lives in every single global region.
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But the big story is in Asia-Pacific, where Young Athletes has grown exponentially in the last year – about 400%! In 2016, less than 30,000 children were benefitting from this life-changing program. Twelve months later, nearly 150,000 children in the Region are taking part.
Nearly 30 years old, Special Olympics Unified Sports® is also marking an impressive new milestone: more than 1.6 million people – with and without ID – are competing together in every region of the world. And more young people are Playing Unified than ever: there are now more than a half-million Unified teammates ages 12-25 worldwide – nearly double last year’s total!
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Unified competitions are also growing in innovation and reach. In 2017, the Middle East/North Africa region held the first-ever Unified Female Football Cup, teaming athletes with and without ID from Egypt, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. Leading the way, our female athletes are both shattering stereotypes about the skills of people with ID and opening doors to inclusion and female empowerment all around the region.
In East Asia, we saw the inaugural season of the Unified Schools Football League. The opener alone brought together more than 100 athletes and Unified Sports partners. This is just one example of the continuing growth of Unified Schools and Unified Sports around the world.
During this busy year, Special Olympics signed two important collaboration agreements with the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) and the South American Football Confederation/Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). The goal is to expand and improve development of Special Olympics football (soccer) in Latin America for athletes with and without ID.
Special Olympics also held its first sport development meeting with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR) and created a sport development plan with their assistance.
Other active supporters include the International Basketball Federation (FIBA); Badminton World Federation (BWF); International Powerlifting Federation (IPF); Michael Phelps Foundation (MPF); South American Tennis Confederation (COSAT); Confederation of Tennis of Central America and the Caribbean (COTECC); and the International Floorball Federation (IFF).
In the U.S., Special Olympics continues its ground-breaking work with the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) to grow Unified Sports as official collegiate intramurals across North America.
A continuing success story is our partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Thanks to their inclusive school programs, more than 200,000 students experienced Unified Sports during the 2016-17 school year. For all students, Unified Sports is a win-win proposition. In a recent evaluation report, 97 percent of high school seniors said the Unified Schools program is changing their school for the better.
At Special Olympics, we know that sports training and competition do more than empower children and adults with ID; sports also drive awareness of the talents and skills of people with ID. That’s why we continue to expand competition opportunities – with 103,000 competitions held around the world this year. In North America alone, there were more than 60 large-scale Summer Games competitions in 2017, with more than 175,000 athletes taking part. In Latin America, the 2017 Regional Games also brought together athletes from 21 countries, each striving to do their very best!