Special Olympics Research

Translating the Global Special Olympics Movement Into Local Community Change

This study, conducted by anthropologist Patrick Devlieger, differs from other research into the impact of Special Olympics in that it examines the cultural context and influence of a country and how this unique aspect of each Program affects the implementation of Special Olympics activities and their effect on athletes, families and others involved in the movement. Instead of attempting to test a hypothesis, the study strives to explain the underlying mechanisms used by Special Olympics Programs in four developing counties in four different continents to succeed across widely varying geographic, cultural, political and socio-economic settings.

The countries studied were Namibia, Paraguay, Thailand, and Uzbekistan. Information for the study was collected through interviews with approximately 30 people identified as playing a role in Special Olympics in each of the four countries as well as visits to relevant Special Olympic events. Interviews and site visits were recorded for the production of a documentary film.

Results showed that there is wide variety in how Special Olympics programming is implemented in different countries, but that each has a positive impact on athletes and others involved.

Special Olympics breaks through numerous barriers -- between people with and without intellectual disabilities, between people from different socioeconomic groups, between public and private sectors, and international boundaries that divide nations. At the local level, Special Olympics creates opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities and families to surpass the boundaries of their own expectations.

The way Special Olympics is locally embedded varies from country to country, with one influencing factor being the existence of other sports activities for people with disabilities. There are commonalities as well, however. In each country studied, Special Olympics is both a local and transnational network of human and non-human actors mutually reinforcing one another.

Implementation of Special Olympics programming requires a good fit within the local culture, but certain commonalities, such as the Special Olympics 'brand,' can exist.