50th Anniversary Celebration

On 20 July, 1968, Eunice Kennedy Shriver opened the first ever Special Olympics Games by delivering her inspirational phrase “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” It is this spirit that has carried Special Olympics through 50 years! The 50th anniversary celebrations kicked off in the birthplace of the first Games – Chicago, Illinois, USA.


The inaugural Special Olympics Games took place on Soldier Field in Chicago, so it was fitting that when ground broke on a permanent 30-foot monument built to honor of the organization, Chicago was chosen as its home.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel shared these thoughts at the memorial dedication, “The Eternal Flame of Hope not only celebrates Chicago as the birthplace of the Special Olympics, it is a testament to the depth and talent of athletes who compete at the highest level every year. The Special Olympics will always have a home in Chicago, and we are proud to support the participating athletes who showcase to the world what it means to be an Olympian.”


Twenty-four women’s and men’s Unified Football (soccer) teams competed in the first ever Special Olympics Unified Cup. Bringing together athletes from around the world, with and without intellectual disabilities, the event broke down barriers and created a powerful community of acceptance and inclusion.

Both the women’s and men’s finals brought excitement as Slovakia defeated Brazil 2-1 in the Women’s Final and Ecuador defeated Uruguay 1-0 in the Men’s Final.


On 21 July, over 10,000 families filled Soldier Field for the Global Day of Inclusion. The day’s events featured outdoor fitness classes, sports clinics, giveaways and amusement rides. Also, included in the day was a Historic and Cultural Walk which gave visitors a history lesson about the first 50 years of Special Olympics.

A Resource and Vendor Fair offered information on employment, legal, education, insurance and other important opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.

The day ended with an incredible concert featuring Chance The Rapper, Usher, Smokey Robinson and Jason Mraz.


If you were at one of 225 iconic locations around the globe that lit up red on 20 July, you would have been privileged to see the landmarks bathed in red light as a coordinated worldwide display of unity called Light Up for Inclusion.

“We are grateful for the tremendous support to help celebrate and raise awareness for people with intellectual disabilities regardless of where they live in the world,” said Special Olympics Chairman, Timothy Shriver. “Light Up for Inclusion symbolizes the continuation and evolution of Special Olympics’ mission.”

Participating landmarks included:

  • Emirates Palace and ADNOC HQ, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  • Empire State Building, New York, USA
  • Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
  • Coca-Cola London Eye, Piccadilly sign & Blackpool Tower, UK
  • African Renaissance Monument, Dakar, Senegal
  • Prudential Buildings, Willis Tower & more, Chicago, USA
  • Amman Citadel, Amman, Jordan
  • Angel of Independence, Mexico City, Mexico
  • Administration Building Panama Canal, Panama
  • Lotte World Tower, Seoul, South Korea
  • Nelson Mandela Statue, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Niagara Falls, USA and Canada
  • Olympic Stadium, Baku, Azerbaijan
  • The Esplanade, Singapore
  • The Water Cube, Beijing, China