Creating a voice for the Disability Sector
Creating a voice for the Disability Sector
Special Olympics and Paralympics are not the same

Special Olympics and Paralympics are not the same

14 September 2021

You might often hear the words Special Olympics interchanged with Paralympics, or vice versa, because they both mean the same thing, right? Wrong.

Paralympics (21 gold, 29 silver and 30 bronze) placing us 8th in the tally count, let’s also explore the other differences between the Special and Paralympic Games.


Special Olympics welcomes all athletes with intellectual disabilities, (ages 8 and older) of all ability levels, to train and compete in over 30 Olympic-type sports.

To be eligible to participate in Special Olympics, athletes must have an intellectual disability; a cognitive delay, or a developmental disability, that has functional limitations in both general learning and adaptive skills. (They may also have a physical disability.)

Paralympics welcomes 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 categories mentioned before).

To participate in the Paralympic Games, athletes must fulfil certain criteria and meet certain qualifying standards in order to be eligible.

Sporting Philosophy

Special Olympics believes deeply in the power of sports to help all who participate to fulfil their potential and does not exclude any athlete based upon qualifying scores, but rather divisions the athletes are 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 must fulfil certain criteria and meet certain qualifying standards in order to be eligible.

These criteria and standards are sports-specific and are determined by the IPC Sports Chairpersons, the Sports Technical Delegates and the relevant international sports organisations.

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, can compete at the Games.


Special Olympics is a global movement leading the world of sport for people with intellectual disabilities and is focused on building a worldwide network of athletes of all ability levels who compete in sports while creating communities of leaders committed to inclusion, acceptance, and dignity for all.

With a Headquarters in Washington D.C. Special Olympics happens year-round in seven regions of the world, over 170 countries and has more than 220 programs operating daily to provide empowerment through 32 Olympics-type sports. There is an International Governing Board of Directors.

The Paralympics are run by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

As the international representative organisation of sport for athletes with a disability, the IPC comprises elected representatives from around the world.

The General Assembly, its highest decision-making body, includes around 165 member nations, represented through their National Paralympic Committees, and four disability-specific organisations.

All athletes, whether in the Special Olympics or Paralympics, can be proud of their efforts to achieve this level of sporting prowess.

The Paralympics might be over. But more than 1000 athletes with intellectual disabilities are in training for the 2022 Special Olympics Australia National Games in Launceston in Tasmania from October 17-21, next year.

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