How Are Special Olympics NY Athletes Selected for World Games?

There’s no bigger stage than Special Olympics World Games.

It’s a level of competition achieved only through hard work, dedicated training, progressive competition, and good fortune. But you might wonder how we select athletes for this honor. After all, there are over 68,000 athletes and Unified partners across New York, but only a handful of World Games spots. So how do we make our final decisions?

Special Olympics has developed a set of rules that govern advancement and the selection process. Our General Rules for athlete advancement are grounded in this fundamental principle: Athletes of all ability levels have an equal opportunity to advance to the next higher level of competition. Each program is bound to fulfill these principles.

The Process

Advancement begins with allocations, which are essentially the number of World Games spots available to New York athletes or teams. In addition to quantity, allocations are further defined by gender and competitive ability.

Next, we must select athletes in accordance with formalized Criteria for Advancement as defined by the Special Olympics General Rules, Article 3, section 3.06(e). This boils down to a few key factors:

Eligibility – To be considered eligible, athletes must have participated at the previous level of competition prior to advancing to the next higher level. Athletes or teams may not be barred from advancement or omitted from the draw based on prior competition or advancement experience.

Non-Athletic Considerations – We also evaluate allocations based on medical, behavioral, and judicial consideration. We want to ensure our athletes will benefit from their experience. If, for example, an athlete requires more travel support than we can reasonably provide, we would be less likely to send that athlete to World Games.

Performance – Priority is given to all first-place finishers from all divisions of the specific sport/event in consideration. We are required to do the same with second, then third-place finishers and so on until we have filled our allocations. If the number of eligible athletes and or teams exceeds the quota, athletes and teams are selected by random draw.

Your next question might be this: “If only medal winners are eligible, how can each athlete get an equitable chance to advance to the next level of competition?”

The answer to this question is at the heart of our organization’s credibility. Special Olympics Divisioning Rules ensure equitable competition for all athletes at all skill levels. At every competition, athletes are separated into heats of three to eight competitors, having been divided by gender, age, and ability (with ability being the most important consideration). All athletes are evaluated through qualifying scores and/or preliminary rounds, and are paired in a division of equally skilled and capable opponents. Therefore all award-winning athletes from all divisions have an equal chance of selection for advancement.

Our divisioning process is one-of-a-kind, designing by Special Olympics to create an even playing field for all athletes of all abilities. For an in-depth look at this process, see the video below:

An Example in Action

Imagine Special Olympics New York was granted a quota of one powerlifting athlete to join Team USA for the upcoming World Games. First we need to determine our eligible athletes. These eligible athletes will have competed in the previous State Summer Games for powerlifting and have placed first in their divisions. This imaginary pool may contain 25 powerlifters of varying skill and strength depending upon their divisions. The selection from this pool is randomly drawn with oversight from the Games Organizing Committee. The selected athlete is evaluated by a team of coaches, family, and committee members. Upon confirmation, our lucky and deserving athlete is recognized and advances to World Games.

In Conclusion

The opportunity to travel to a far reaching land, immersion in an unfamiliar culture and bonding with people regardless of language or belief in the pursuit of sport in its purest form exemplifies the core principles of our Special Olympics movement. These experiences stretch far beyond the athletes who have had the privilege of World Games selection. Each of us involved in the movement is touched by this exchange.

Please read and learn more about Special Olympics. Additional educational material and the General Rules can be found at www.specialolympics.org.

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