What's the difference between Paralympics & Special Olympics?

 Special Olympics and Paralympics are two separate organizations recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). They are similar in that they both focus on sports for athletes with disabilities and are run by non profit organizations. Apart from that, Special Olympics and the Paralympics differ in 3 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.


1) Athletes: The Special Olympics welcomes only athletes with intellectual disabilities of all ability levels to train and compete in 30 Olympic type sports. To be eligible to participate in the Special Olympics, Athletes must have an intellectual disability; a cognitive delay or a developmental disability, that is functional limitations in both general learning and adaptive skills. They may also have a physical disability.


The Paralympics welcomes any Athletes from the six main disability categories: Amputees, Cerebral Palsy, intellectual disabilities, visually impaired, spinal injuries and 'Les Autres', which are disabilities that do not fall into the above categories. To participate in the Paralympic games, Athletes have to fulfill certain criteria and meet certain qualifying standards in order to be eligible for a specific sport.


2) Sporting Philosophy: Special Olympics believes in the power of sports to help all who participate to fulfill their potential and does not exclude any Athlete based on 'qualifying scores', but rather divisions the Athletes based on scores for fair competition against others of like ability. For Special Olympic Athletes, excellence is a personal achievement, a reflection of reaching one's maximum potential-a goal to which everyone can aspire.


To participate in the Paralympic Games, Athletes must 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 qualification process so that the best or the highest qualified based on performance, can compete at the games.


3) Structures: Special Olympics is a global movement leading the World of sports for people with intellectual disabilities and is focused on building

a worldwide network of athletes of all ability levels who compete in sports while creating community of leaders to inclusion, acceptance and dignity for all. Special Olympics is headquartered in Washington, DC (USA) and happens year round in seven regions of the World with over 170 Countries and has 228 programs operating on a daily basis to provide empowerment through 30 Olympic type sports. 


The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement. Its purpose is to organise the summer and winter Paralympic Games and act as the International Federation for nine sports, supervising and coordinating World Championships and other competitions.


The vision of the IPC, run by 200 members, is ‘To enable Paralympic athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world.’


Enable - Creating conditions for athlete empowerment.


Paralympic Athletes - The primary focus, from initiation to elite level


Achieve - Sporting excellence is the goal of a sport centred organization.


Inspire & Excite - Touch the heart of all people for a more equitable society


Founded on 22 September 1989 as a non-profit organization, it is based in Bonn, Germany and aims to develop sports opportunities for all people with an impairment from the beginner to elite level.

It employs nearly 70 people from 17 countries and is composed of a General Assembly (highest decision making body), a Governing Board (executive body), a Management Team and various Standing Committees and Councils.


Int'l Paralympics Aspiration

"Athletes and the Paralympic Games are at the heart of our Movement. Their performances and incredible stories teach the values of acceptance and appreciation for people with an impairment. The Paralympic Movement builds a bridge which links sport with social awareness thus contributing to the development of a more equitable society with respect and equal opportunities for all individuals" 

Paralympic Values


This value encompasses the unique spirit of the para-athlete who seeks to accomplish what the general public deems ‘unexpected’ but what the athlete knows as ‘truth’. The Paralympic brand and its values are tangible manifestations of what it means to push oneself beyond expectations.



Overcoming obstacles and conquering adversity are popular concepts that resonate with the general public; for the para-athlete, the value is more applicable to pushing ones physical ability to the absolute limit.



The stories and accomplishments of para-athletes induce intense and personal emotions. The Paralympic experience has the power to change lives when the Paralympic Spirit is applied to one’s personal life.



Paralympic sport – from the grassroots to the elite level – reflects Paralympic ideals and also acts as an agent for change to break down social barriers and discrimination against persons with an impairment. The Paralympic Movement strives to create a more equal society through initiatives like the Agitos Foundation, developments projects, education programmes and gender equality campaigns.



International Paralympics website

Special Olympics Website

DSISO website