Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to a list of the most frequently asked questions in Special Olympics. There is a brief explanation followed by a link to the website where the question is answered in more detail.

For ease of use, the questions are divided into a number of sections. Please contact us at if the question you have is not available and we will be delighted to add it into the relevant group.

We also have an easy read version of the frequently asked questions, click here to access the Easy Read FAQs

Sections are as follows:




Athlete Progression to higher level competitions

Selection of athletes from one level of competition to the next level




Q.    What is Special Olympics Ireland?

Special Olympics Ireland is a sports organisation for people with an intellectual disability. Our mission is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with an intellectual disability, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendships with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community."

We currently have almost 9,100 registered athletes participating in 14 sports in 360 affiliated groups throughout the island of Ireland.  These athletes are supported by their families and a team of 25,000 volunteers who give of their time to help out at sporting and fundraising events.

Q.    How many regions are there in Special Olympics Ireland?

There are five regions within Special Olympics Ireland; Connaught, Eastern, Leinster, Munster and Ulster. Each with its own office and staff members.

Q.    What is the difference between Special Olympics and Paralympics?

Special Olympics and Paralympics are two separate organisations recognised by International Olympic Committee.  Click here for further information. 


Q.    What are the sports offered by Special Olympics Ireland?

Special Olympics Ireland offers 12 Official Summer Sports and 2 Official Winter Sports. 

Click here for further information. 

Q.    Where can I find Special Olympics sports rules?

Special Olympics Ireland sports are governed by the National Governing bodies for each sport. However, Special Olympics International also has their own sports rules which are specific to Special Olympics. Special Olympics Ireland is also bound by the general rules of Special Olympics International and in particular Article 1 which applies to sport. Rules that apply to each sport can be found on the sport specific pages of this website. Click here to enter.

Q.    My athlete is new to Special Olympics, what sports should they participate in?

When an athlete joins Special Olympics, there are a few really important decisions they will need to make with their parents/carers and coach prior to participation and selection of a sport. For more information on how to help make those decisions please click here.  

Q.    In how many sports can an athlete train?

When registering first with Special Olympics Ireland it is recommended that an athlete participates in one sport only. As an athlete develops and perhaps has an interest in participating in additional sports, they may do so depending if there is a club close by that offers that particular sport and has the capacity to register additional athletes. Click here for sport and event selection guide.

Q.    In how many sports can an athlete compete?

Due to the size of the programme some regions will have identified a specific number of sports that each athlete may participate in i.e. 1 team and 2 individual sports per athlete. Athletes can then participate and compete in these sports to Regional level. However for an Ireland Games, European Games or World Games athletes may only participate in one sport. Please check with the relevant region.

Q.    What is the Young Athletes programme?

Special Olympics Young Athletes is an innovative sports play program that provides opportunities for young children 4-7 years old with intellectual disabilities to be active, have fun and learn foundation sports skills.  The program supports physical, social, emotional and cognitive development skills important both on and off the sports field.  It is fun for children of all abilities and is the first introduction for families to their local Special Olympics programmes.

Q.    What is Unified Sports?

The unified sports programme is a Special Olympics International programme which was developed in response to the demand for greater inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in the community. The programme offers people with and without intellectual disabilities an opportunity to train and compete alongside each other.

Click here for further information. 


Q.    How do I know if my athlete is ready for competition?

Competition is one of the biggest elements of sport. Many people get involved in sport to participate in competition. However, it is important to make sure that every athlete is very well prepared and ready before they enter competition.

Q.    How can I help my athlete get ready for competition?

Competition can and should be one of the most enjoyable, exciting and rewarding elements of participation in any sport. Achieving this means making sure our athletes are well trained physically, have the appropriate technical and tactical skills and also that they are mentally and emotionally prepared for the rigours of competition. Click here for further information. 

Q.    What is an Interclub Activity and how do I organise one?

An interclub activity is an ideal way to provide a competitive experience to athletes outside of the regional calendar of events. It may also offer more such as opportunities to train with others and maybe develop new skill. Many events will involve training and competitive elements. For information on how to organise an interclub activity, click here

Q.     What event should I enter my athlete/s in?

Irrespective of whether your athlete/s can make an informed decision as to the event they wish to enter for competition or whether you as the coach, need to support an athlete in this decision, there are a number of key things to consider including

  •   the athlete’s interests and strengths
  •   What event will provide appropriate challenge
  •   Is the event suitable/offered for their age
  •   as the coach, do you have the skill level and training to help your athletes’ reach their potential

Click here for further information. 

   Q.    How do I enter an athlete in an event?

Initial notification of events in a particular calendar year is distributed annually by each Special Olympics region. This will include the event date, venue and deadline for entry. All entries must be made on an official entry form. Click here for further information. (Sports regulations Section 6)

   Q.    Can an athlete change events within a sport before the following year’s events?

Athletes are automatically assigned to the events they competed in the previous level of competition. As always, the desire is for athletes to compete in events which best suit their ability level. If your athlete has now progressed beyond the events they competed in you may request a change of event for your athlete. However there is no guarantee that this request can be accommodated and a request will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

   Q.    What happens if an athlete withdraws closer to the competition event?

If your athlete accepts a place in a competition, but subsequently has to withdraw, the club should inform the region as soon as possible. The sooner the region is advised of this information, the sooner the place can be offered to another athlete. However if it close to the actual competition, it is unlikely that the place will be re-offered to another athlete.

  Q.    My athlete is no longer interested in competitive sport, what other options are available for them?

There are many options within the programme for athletes who no longer compete. These include becoming a coach/official or getting involved in Athlete Leadership programme. Your regional office will be able to guide you on the best route for your athlete. There are also many activities for older adults outside the Special Olympics Ireland programme.

Click here for further information. 

  Q.    There are no competitive opportunities for my athletes, what can I do?

While there may be no official competition in the sport your athlete/s participate in, there may be training or development days in the regional schedule. Contact your regional office for more information. You can also organise an Interclub Activity for your athletes. While not solely for competitive purposes, it is an ideal way to meet the need of competition through friendly or challenge competitions. Click here for further information.

  Q.    How are athletes classified for competition?

Athletes are classified for Special Olympics competition through a process known as divisioning.  Divisioning is the process used by Special Olympics throughout the world to ensure that athletes compete with other athletes of similar ability in competition.

Click here for further information. 

  Q.    What is Maximum Effort?

Maximum effort refers to the participation of every athlete/team to the best of their ability, every time they participate, regardless of whether it is in Divisioning or the level of competition

Maximum Effort applies in every Special Olympics competition but its application for Special Olympics Ireland is in timed and measured events, including swimming and athletics.

While alpine skiing and kayaking are also timed events, due to additional factors including water and weather conditions, maximum effort does not apply.

Click here for further information. 

            Q.  What can a coach do to ensure an athlete is not Disqualified?

A coach can do a number of things to ensure their athlete is not disqualified:

  • Consider if the athlete tends to perform better or worse in a competition environment. If they do, create this type of environment at training as much as possible by inviting family members or         volunteers as spectators close to competition.
  • Ensure you take appropriate care that the time/distance entered for the athlete will be reflective of his/her performance on the day
  • Update an athlete’s score after the deadline for entry forms, but before the competition date itself, by submitting an Improved Performance Form. Each Regional Office has details on deadlines for submission of Improved Performance Forms.

Remember: It is the coach’s responsibility to submit accurate and recently recorded times and distances for each athlete’s entry score.

             Q.  How does a coach make a protest or an appeal?

There is an official Protest and Appeals process at all Special Olympics competitions. It is important to know that only a designated Head Coach may make a protest or an appeal.  Click here for further information. (Section 7)

Athlete progression to higher level competitions  

             Q.  What is Advancement?

Advancement is when an athlete progresses from one level of competition to the next. Due to the size of the Special Olympics Ireland programme, it operates on a four year cycle with athletes progressing from Area, to Regional to Special Olympics Ireland Games and finally to a World Games, both Winter and Summer, whereupon the cycle commences again. Local non-advancement competitions also take place outside the advancement cycle.

          Q.   Does the quickest or best score only advance?

No, all eligible athletes, across all abilities, have an equal opportunity to advance to the next level of competition. Special Olympics offer the opportunity for every athlete, regardless of their ability, to participate in all levels of competition.

However there are reasons why an athlete may not advance to the next level of competition and are detailed in the next question of Who can Advance?

          Q.   Who can Advance?

Athletes are eligible to advance to the next level of competition provided they:

  •   have participated in an eight week (minimum) organised training programme and prepared for competition in the specific sport and event consistent with the Official Special Olympics Sports Rules
  •   have participated and were placed in the previous level competition (e.g. if an athlete does not compete in an Area advancement event he/she cannot compete at a Regional advancement event)
  •   has not been disqualified or failed to complete their events. Disqualification = no advancement.
  •   the particular sport or event is offered in the next level of the advancement cycle


           Q.  How is it decided which athletes advance to the next level of competition?

Generally at Area level, any athlete who wishes to compete has the opportunity to do so, but as athlete’s progress from Area, to Regional and Special Olympics Ireland level quotas are established, so an athlete must be selected in order to advance to the next level of competition.

Firstly, all eligible gold medal winners of every division may be selected to advance to the next level of competition. Where there is a quota established, athletes are selected through a random selection process in order to fill the quota. For more information on Random selection please click here 

           Q.  What is a quota?

A quota is the maximum number of athletes that can be accommodated in any competition. This will depend on a number of factors including:

•           The size and space in the venue

•           The time available to run the competition

Selection of athletes from one level of competition to the next level

            Q.  Who can attend the athlete selection process?

The selection process is open for any stakeholder to attend including coaches, athletes, family members and volunteers; however it is not essential for anyone to attend.

Following the athlete selection process, an official letter of offer will be sent to the Special Olympics club, Special Olympics region, family member/carer depending on the level of athlete selection.

            Q.   Who receives the official letter of offer of an athlete selection?

Need to start with the region first

For Ireland Games the letter of offer/ list of selected athletes is issued directly to the club contact within your Special Olympics Club. This information will not be sent directly to coaches or families. Clubs should share the information with the relevant stakeholders;

·         Club Management Team

·         Coaches

·         Families

·         & relevant athletes

For Selection onto Team Ireland for a World/European Games the letter is sent to the relevant family member and also to the club contact.

             Q.  How do I accept the offers for my club?

To accept a place on behalf of your athlete;

·         At Regional level, please complete the official form which is issued to the Special Olympics club contact

·         For selections on to Team Ireland the official acceptance form must be signed by both the family member/carer and the club contact

·         Clearly mark whether an athlete has accepted or declined the offer of a place on the team

·         Return the official form to the relevant office via post prior to the stated deadline

            Q.  Why would an athlete decline an offer?

There are many reasons why an athlete may choose to decline an offer of a place on a team including;

·         The athlete does not wish to compete at that level of competition

·         The athlete is not ready for that level of competition

·         The athlete no longer wants to compete in that sport or in Special Olympics

·         The athlete is no longer attending your Special Olympics Club

·         The athlete may be unsuitable for participation at the next level of competition. For further information on the suitability criteria please click here (Sports Regulations 14.1)

           Q.  What happens if I miss the deadline for accepting an athlete offer of a place on a regional team?

If the completed acceptance form isn’t returned to the Regional Office on or before the stated deadline;

·         It will be assumed that your club has declined the offer(s)

·         Those places will be offered to the relevant substitute(s) in that sport

            Q.   What happens if I miss the deadline for accepting an athlete offer of a place on an Ireland team?

If the completed acceptance form isn’t returned to Central Office on or before the stated deadline;

·         It will be assumed that your athlete has declined the offer(s)

·         Those places will be offered to the relevant substitute(s) in that sport

            Q.  If an athlete in my club rejects an offer, will the place automatically go to another athlete in my club?

No, the place will be offered to the next substitute in that sport.

             Q.  Is the list of substitutes made public?

No, to avoid raising expectation levels of athletes, family members, or coaches, the names on the substitutes list are not disclosed.


              Q.  Are certain qualifications needed by coaches?

All coaches are required to have a minimum coaching qualification obtained by the relevant National Governing Body for their sport to coach in our clubs. Coaches are encouraged to update their qualifications on a regular basis and Special Olympics Ireland also offer a number of courses for coaches to gain added qualifications. For further information please click here.

            Q.  How do I get involved in coaching on an Ireland Team or Regional Team?

When forming regional or Ireland teams, all positions are advertised on the Special Olympics Ireland website and also distributed through our clubs. To apply for a position you must complete an application form and submit it to your regional office or central office if it is for an Ireland team. All applications are reviewed and positions are offered depending on qualifications and experience in Special Olympics Ireland, working with people with intellectual disabilities and as a coach. When compiling a team the organisation ensure that there is a good balance of coaching experience and chaperoning experience among the coaches.


           Q.  What is the difference between grading and divisioning?

Divisioning identifies the standard of a team relative to the other teams in an event or competition

Grading identifies the standard /level of an athlete according to set criteria

           Q.  Why does Special Olympics Ireland grade athletes?

Grading of Special Olympics athletes was introduced to the Special Olympics Ireland programme in 2008 when it was agreed that teams of similar ability would advance to higher levels of competition.  The purpose of grading is to categorise players by their ability based on a set criteria as outlined in the grading tool. Using the grade assigned to the athlete, those of similar ability are combined together to form teams for Ireland, European and World Games.

           Q.  How does Special Olympics Ireland Grade players?

Grading of Special Olympics Ireland athletes is done by categorising players by their ability based on a set criteria as outlined in the grading tool. This is done on numerous occasions to ensure that the correct grade is assigned to an athlete. For further information click here