Team sports bring people together. Special Olympics Unified Sports® teams do that, too and much more. About 1.2 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. Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® programming is in more than 8,300 schools across the United States, with a goal of being in 10,000 schools by 2024.
In more than 8,300 Unified Champion Schools across the country, Special Olympics has trained and mobilized youth leaders and educators to create more inclusive schools by including students with ID in all aspects of school life. Social inclusion is promoted by bringing together young people with and without ID on sports teams (Special Olympics Unified Sports®), through inclusive student clubs, and by fostering youth leadership. As many as 19.5 million young people are taking part in these experiences, which are increasing acceptance of people of all abilities while simultaneously reducing stigma and bullying.
Unified with Refugees
Special Olympics Unified with Refugees brings the transformative power of sport and other programming to the most marginalized and amplifies the movement’s calls for social inclusion. Special Olympics partner the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that over 79 million people worldwide have been forced by violence and other conditions to leave their homes. Refugees and other people on the move often live on the fringes of the societies to which they flee, due to lack of acceptance and poor access to resources. Learn more about Special Olympics Unified with Refugees.
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