Special Olympics and Paralympics are two separate organizations recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). They are similar in that they both focus on sport for athletes with a disability and are run by international non-profit organizations. Apart from that, Special Olympics and the Paralympics differ in three main areas: 1) the disability categories of the athletes that they work with, 2) the criteria and philosophy under which athletes participate, and 3) the structure of their respective organizations.
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 development disability, that is, 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 have to fulfill certain criteria and meet certain qualifying standards in order to be eligible.
Special Olympics believes deeply in the power of sports to help all who participate to fulfill their potential and does not exclude any athlete based upon qualifying scores, but rather divisions the athletes 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 have to fulfill 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 organizations. 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.
Founded in 1968, Special Olympics is a global movement to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. We foster acceptance of all people through the power of sport and programming in education, health, and leadership. With more than six million athletes and Unified Sports partners and one million coaches and volunteers in over 200 accredited Programs, Special Olympics delivers more than 30 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions every year.
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