Unified Sports

Special Olympics Belgium athlete Cedriek Beerten (No. 17) reaches for the ball during the 2015 NBA Cares Unified Basketball Game at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Team sports bring people together. Special Olympics Unified Sports® teams do that, too and much more. About 1.4 million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a really fun way. ESPN has served as the Global Presenting Sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports since 2013, supporting the growth and expansion of this program that empowers individuals with and without intellectual disabilities to engage through the power of sports.

Promoting Social Inclusion Through Sport

Special Olympics is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences. Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability. That makes practices more fun and games more challenging and exciting for all. Having sport in common is just one more way that preconceptions and false ideas are swept away.

U.S. States Embracing Unified Sports

Young people with disabilities do not often get a chance to play on their school sports teams. More and more U.S. states are adopting the Unified Sports approach that Special Olympics pioneered.

Unified Sports is also an integral part of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools, which was founded in 2008 and funded through the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education to use Special Olympics as a way to build inclusion and tolerance in schools. Unified Sports are now in more than 4500 elementary, middle and high schools in the United States. Seventy percent of Unified Champion Schools (Pre-K through Grade 12) are engaging in Unified Sports! Also 215 US colleges and universities have Special Olympics College Clubs on campus, providing ongoing Unified and inclusionary activities for students and Special Olympics athletes. 73 of the 215 US colleges and universities activating Special Olympics College conduct ongoing Unified Sports on their campus. Learn how to get involved, visit: www.playunified.org.

Mission: Inclusion

As part of the Special Olympics- Lions Clubs International “Mission: Inclusion” partnership, the LCI youth network-Leos- have become a strong global partner in expanding and implementing Unified Sports together with Special Olympics. The Leos have helped both start, and sustain, Unified Sports in a number of nations worldwide, and serve as one of the movement’s strongest youth leadership networks in bringing inclusive programming to communities across the world. From Zimbabwe to Brazil and from California to India, the Leos continue to amplify the voice of athletes, and embody the creed: Play Unified. Live Unified.

Major sports organization, league and event support to Play Unified

Many high-profile, professional sports organizations and events have also showcased Unified Sports as a vehicle to show the power of inclusive sports! This support includes:

  • National Basketball Association (NBA)
  • Major League Soccer (MLS)
  • Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)
  • National Collegiate Athletic Association, D-III
  • ESPN's X Games Aspen
  • National Federation of High Schools (NFHS)
  • National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA)

Unified Sports Partners

ESPN | U.S. Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education (OSEP) | Kim Samuel and the Samuel Family Foundation | Perfect Sense | Y&R | Burson-Marsteller | The Coca-Cola Company | WWE | NBA | MLS Works | Uniqlo | Seiko | NIRSA | NFHS | EuroLeague | UNICEF | UEFA | FIFA Football for Hope | King Baudouin Foundation | Lion's Club International

Get coaching information, videos and more to make your Unified teams successful.
Additional Coaching Resources
How to become an excellent Special Olympics coach: videos, brochures and more covering coaching basics
Basic resources and information Special Olympics coaches need to be successful, including Sports Article 1, rules, fact sheets, materials on CD and DVD, quizzes and event-management guides.
Get rules, fact sheets, coaching guides, quizzes broken out for each sport, plus comprehensive information on coach development, athlete development and Unified Sports.