Steady Growth of Special Olympics Means Reaching More People with ID

For the estimated 200 million people on Earth who have intellectual disabilities (ID), Special Olympics offers a place to learn, to be challenged and to be accepted for who they are. The most recent stats on our reach and growth show Special Olympics has reached 4 million athletes with ID worldwide.

Accelerating Growth

A Visual Summary. Here's a summary of many of the important facts and statistics about Special Olympics. See the chart

The new numbers about Special Olympics are laid out in the new 2011 Reach Report. The important, impressive numbers are summarized in this infographic.

At the first games in 1968, Special Olympics was a bold idea with about 1,000 participants. It took decades to reach 1 million athletes with intellectual disabilities; that milestone came in 2000. This year, Special Olympics' reach exceeds 4 million athletes.

That may not be the most impressive number, though. Consider that Special Olympics had 53,601 competitions in 2011. Not practices, but competitions in one or more of our 32 sports.

That means that on an average day, there are 146 competitions going on around the world. Each of those competitions represents many hours of training and practice by our athletes. And supporting those athletes are 306,652 volunteer coaches.

Volunteers Fuel the Movement

Volunteers in Panama. A dental student helps screen the health of a Special Olympics athlete.

Special Olympics is a volunteer movement, first and foremost. All those coaches are putting in hours because they believe in Special Olympics' message of empowerment and respect.

Think of who else supports the athletes and coaches: volunteers who work behind the scenes and in public ways to support the competitions and local efforts. Special Olympics counted more than 750,000 volunteers in addition to the coaches.

One particular set of volunteers uses their years of training and experience in the medical and health professions to provide free health screening clinics to our athletes worldwide. The Healthy Athletes program provided 765 clinics and screened 117,000 athletes with ID in 2011.

Every Day, All Around the World

Our Athlete Leadership Programs are also moving onward and upward, and we take pride in our many new athlete leaders. In fact, we now have 28,896 athlete leaders! Unified Sports is also continuing steady growth: 9 percent in 2011. That means more than a half-million athletes and partners took part in Special Olympics unified events -- bringing together athletes with and without disabilities -- all around the world.

With 225 programs in 170 countries, there's always something exciting going on at Special Olympics, every single day. This year proved that once again that Special Olympics is more than just a game or a race or a tournament -- it's a community, a life-altering experience, a global force and a movement.