To provide the most enjoyable, beneficial and challenging activities for athletes with mental retardation, Special Olympics operates worldwide in accordance with the following principles and beliefs:
- That the goal of Special Olympics is to help bring all persons with mental retardation into the larger society under conditions whereby they are accepted, respected and given a chance to become productive citizens.
- That, as a means of achieving this goal, Special Olympics encourages its more capable athletes to move from Special Olympics training and competition into school and community programs where they can compete in regular sports activities. The decision to leave or to continue involvement in Special Olympics is the athlete's choice.
- That all Special Olympics activities - at the local, state/provincial, national and international levels - reflect the values, standards, traditions, ceremonies and events embodied in the modern Olympic movement. These Olympic-type activities have been broadened and enriched to celebrate the moral and spiritual qualities of persons with mental retardation so as to enhance their dignity and self-esteem.
That participation in Special Olympics training programs and competitive events is open to all people with mental retardation who are at least 8 years old, regardless of the degree of their disability.
- That comprehensive, year-round sports training is available to every Special Olympics athlete, conducted by well-qualified coaches in accordance with the standardized Sports Rules formulated and adopted by Special Olympics, and that every athlete who participates in a Special Olympics sport will be trained in that sport.
- That every Special Olympics Program includes sports events and activities that are appropriate to the age and ability level of each athlete, from motor activities to the most advanced competition.
- That Special Olympics provides full participation for every athlete regardless of economic circumstance and conducts training and competition under the most favorable conditions possible, including facilities, administration, training, coaching, officiating and events.
- That at every Awards Ceremony, in addition to the traditional medals for first, second and third places, athletes finishing from fourth to last place are presented a suitable place ribbon with appropriate ceremony.
- That, to the greatest extent possible, Special Olympics activities will be run by and involve local volunteers, from school and college-age individuals to senior citizens, in order to create greater opportunities for public understanding of mental retardation.
- That, although Special Olympics is primarily a program of sports training and competition, efforts are made to offer athletes a full range of artistic, social and cultural experiences through activities such as dances, art exhibits, concerts, visits to historic sites, clinics, theatrical performances and similar activities.
- That the "Spirit of Special Olympics" - skill, courage, sharing and joy - incorporates universal values which transcend all boundaries of geography, nationality, political philosophy, gender, age, race or religion.