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Year-round sports training and competition is the basis of the Special Olympics programme. Special Olympics New Zealand currently offers 13 summer and winter sports. Read about our sports here.

While a lot of sport focuses on the elite level and honours only the best athletes and their performances, in Special Olympics all athletes are rewarded for their achievements.

A range of events are offered to challenge athletes of all abilities. Depending on the sport, events may have developmental activities for lower ability athletes and longer distance or more complicated activities for higher ability athletes.

In addition to full-game play, skills tests are offered in some sports. The skills that are tested are directly related to those needed in the game. For example, in basketball skills, athletes learn and are tested on dribbling, shooting and passing. Some athletes will compete in skills tests and full-team play while others may chose to only compete in skills.

Technical sports rules for each sport are based on the rules of the international governing bodies for the sport. Special Olympics provides sports information and coach training. Go to our sports page and click on the sports you are interested in to download information about individual sports and coaching. 

What is divisioning?

Special Olympics believes it is very important that all athletes have the chance to participate in meaningful competition. In part, that means athletes compete against others with similar ability.

In order to provide this, Special Olympics uses a process called “divisioning”. Athletes and teams are placed in divisions based on their ability. In some sports, male and female athletes are divisioned separately.

At big competitions like National and World Games, athletes compete in heats on the first days. The time, distance or scores athletes receive in those heats is used to place them into divisions with other athletes of similar ability. A division has no less than three athletes and no more than eight.

In mainstream sports, heats lead to one final round. At a big event in mainstream sport, for example, there may be 15 heats that lead to quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final round. At a Special Olympics event, there may be 15 heats and then 15 finals – with one final for each division.

All athletes or teams that compete in a final receive an award for their placing.

At Ribbon Days, ribbons are awarded to 1st through 8th places; at Regional, National and World Games, gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to 1st, 2nd and 3rd places respectively and ribbons are awarded to 4th 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th place winners.

Participant ribbons are awarded to athletes who are disqualified during final rounds.

Do you have questions about sports?

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