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Special Olympics Canada is a national organization created to help people with intellectual disabilities develop self-confidence and social skills through sports training and competition.



Special Olympics Canada is dedicated to enriching the lives of Canadians with an intellectual disability through sport. It is a national not-for-profit grassroots organization that provides sport training and competition opportunities through the local sport club to more than 32,000 athletes of all ages and abilities. More than 13,000 trained volunteer coaches are currently involved with Special Olympics, supporting and running programs each day in virtually every community nationwide. This vital human resource also includes more than 12,000 members of the policing community who have supported Special Olympics, largely through the Law Enforcement Torch Run. Special Olympics Canada is part of a global movement and celebrates 40 years in Canada this year (2009). Special Olympics Canada's programs are supported by corporate sponsorship, fundraising activities, government funding as well as individual donors. Special Olympics Canada is structured into regional, provincial and national programs and competitions. National competitions are held every two years, alternating between summer and winter games with Special Olympics World Games held in the year following national games. Canadian athletes have the opportunity to participate along with more than 150 other countries in Special Olympics World Summer or Winter Games through selection in the national team program.


In the early sixties, testing of children with intellectual disabilities revealed that they were only half as physically fit as their non-disabled peers. It was assumed that their low fitness levels were a direct result of mental retardation. A Toronto researcher and professor, Dr. Frank Hayden, questioned this assumption. Working with a control group of children on an intense fitness program, he demonstrated that, given the opportunity, intellectually disabled people could become physically fit and acquire the physical skills necessary to participate in sport. His research proved that low levels of fitness and lack of motor skills development in people with mental handicaps were a result of nothing more than a sedentary life style. In other words, their intellectual disabilities resulted in their exclusion from the kinds of physical activity and sports experience readily available to other children.

Inspired by his discoveries, Dr. Hayden began searching for ways to develop a national sports program for intellectually disabled people. It was a goal he eventually achieved, albeit not in Canada. His work came to the attention of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Kennedy Foundation in Washington, D.C., and led to the creation of Special Olympics. The first sports competitions organized under the Special Olympics banner were held at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1968. To ensure that Canada was represented, Dr. Hayden called on an old friend, Harry "Red" Foster.

The late Harry "Red" Foster was an outstanding sportsman, a famous broadcaster, a successful businessman and a humanitarian whose tireless work on behalf of people with an intellectual disability had already brought him international acclaim. Inspired by his mother's devotion to his younger brother, who was both blind and intellectually disabled, Mr. Foster began early in his career to devote much of his time, energy and wealth to addressing the problems faced by individuals with an intellectual disability and their families.

Accompanying a floor hockey team from Toronto to those first Games in Chicago, "Red" was quick to see in Special Olympics a further opportunity to enhance the lives of intellectually disabled Canadians. Upon returning to Canada he set about laying the foundation for the Special Olympics movement. The following summer, 1969, the first Special Olympics Canada event was held in Toronto. From that modest beginning, the Special Olympics movement quickly spread across the country and grew into the national sports organization it is today.

Official Special Olympics Canada Sports


Winter Sports

  • Alpine Skiing
  • Cross Country Skiing
  • Curling
  • Figure Skating
  • Floor Hockey
  • Snowshoeing
  • Speed Skating

Summer Sports

  • Aquatics
  • Athletics (Track & Field)
  • Bowling (5 & 10 Pin)
  • Power-lifting
  • Rhythmic Gymnastics
  • Soccer
  • Softball

External links


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