What is Special Olympics?

Special Olympics is a dynamic, world-wide charitable organization dedicated to providing sports training and competition for people with an intellectual disability. Special Olympics athletes attain more than just sport skills through their involvement; they also develop social skills, learn about sportsmanship and camaraderie, as well as gain independence in everyday living.

Special Olympics began in the 1960s with Dr. Frank Hayden, a researcher from Toronto. Dr. Hayden’s research showed that given the opportunity people with intellectual disabilities could become physically fit and acquire the physical skills necessary to participate in sport. To overcome the common belief that low fitness levels of people with intellectual disabilities were a direct result of their disability, the concept of Special Olympics was created.

Special Olympics has grown considerably since the first games in Chicago in 1968. Now more than one million athletes from over 81 countries participate in Special Olympics programs. These athletes are supported by half a million volunteers who donate their time in a multitude of ways from working directly with the athletes (coaching, officiating) to administration to fundraising.

Special Olympics N.W.T.

Special Olympics N.W.T. is the territorial sport governing body responsible for the delivery of sport for people with intellectual disabilities in the Northwest Territories. It is a not-for- profit organization, registered as a charity within the NWT. Comprised entirely of volunteers, Special Olympics N.W.T. is governed by an 8-person Board of Directors.

Special Olympics N.W.T. (SONWT) started in Yellowknife in 1989 with four athletes in bowling. Today, athletes participate in swimming, bowling, speed skating, rhythmic gymnastics and figure skating as well as mini-sessions (3 – 5 weeks) in track and field, golf and snowshoeing.  There are also youth programs for those aged 2 – 11 – Active Start and Fundamentals.   Over 45 athletes participate with the help of over 40 volunteers .

Funding is provided to SONWT through our fundraising partner Law Enforcement Torch Run, public donations, grants, corporate sponsors and special fundraising events.


Special Olympics exists at many levels, with each level contributing to the development of programs and Special Olympics objectives. A brief description of the levels within the organization will provide an understanding of the structure and the activities within each level.

Community Affiliates

SONWT is a community based program. Programs are delivered in the community through affiliates of Special Olympics operated by teams of volunteer coaches, or in partnership with community sports clubs. These programs give athletes the opportunity to train, on a minimum of a weekly basis, to improve their skills and to compete against other athletes of similar ability.

There is great potential for a variety of sports programs in Special Olympics. The needs, interests, facilities and resources within the community can be considered when determining what sports can be offered. The challenge of each and every volunteer and community is to explore the possibilities and offer a number of official sports to the athletes of Special Olympics. For example, six programs currently run in Yellowknife from fall to spring: 5-Pin bowling, figure skating, speed skating, rhythmic gymnastics, swimming and youth development.

Affiliates also have an administrative component to provide for their overall operation and ensure the Special Olympics mandate is met. Affiliates are accredited by the territorial/provincial chapter to offer Special Olympics programs.

Currently, Yellowknife is the only affiliate in the NWT.

Special Olympics N.W.T.

Special Olympics N.W.T. is a Chapter of Special Olympics Canada, and is recognized and approved as the sole official Special Olympics organization in the territory. SONWT, through its volunteer Board of Directors, represents the territory at the national level, and provides administrative/technical support to Territorial affiliates. It is also a Territorial Sport Organization (TSO) registered with Sport North.

Special Olympics Canada

Special Olympics Canada Inc. is recognized by Sport Canada as the national sports governing body of Special Olympics in Canada. It accredits provincial/territorial chapters, establishes, defines, explains and enforces all rules and policies governing Special Olympics and represents Special Olympics internationally.

Special Olympics Incorporated

Special Olympics Incorporated is the international arm of Special Olympics. It accredits national chapters in other countries and works to establish Special Olympics in many different areas of the world.

Other Provincial and Territorial Links

List of Special Olympics Accredited Organizations in Canada sharing information gathered by Special Olympics NWT:

Special Olympics British Columbia
Special Olympics Alberta
Special Olympics Manitoba
Special Olympics Quebec
Special Olympics New Brunswick
Special Olympics Nova Scotia
Special Olympics Newfoundland & Labrador
Special Olympics Yukon
Special Olympics Prince Edward Island
Special Olympics Saskatchewan
Special Olympics Ontario