Alessandra Palazzotti

Organizing Special Olympics Italia



The first part of this study will be devoted to the description of the Special Olympics world because, paramount that in other organizations, it’s important to underline its mission and purpose.

Special Olympics is a global movement of people, thriving for a new world of inclusion and community, where every single person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of their ability. The movement has the mission to help making a better world, a healthier and more joyful place acting on specific circumstances– one athlete, one volunteer, one family member at a time.

It’s declining these principles that the vision that Special Olympic has about sport must be interpreted.

In particular, Special Olympics Italia is officially recognized as “Meritorious Organization” from the National Olympics Committee and the National Paralympic Committee. This means that it is not a “traditional” Sport Federation but all the same it uses sport to accomplish its goals of inclusion and acceptance.

The present Study focuses on a communication approach, aiming at describing the main features of Special Olympics while highlighting its core values and strength, so that both vision and mission of the Organization as well as its functioning can be explained to the general public in the best and most direct way, both to the benefit of volunteers recruitment and to the support of all kinds of stakeholders, mainly supporters and financers.

Purpose of this case study is to analyse the recognition that Special Olympics receives in the world and to assess and highlight the importance of Special Olympics not just in the Sports field, but also in Health and Social Promotion.

At the same time, it will be investigated the attention that Special Olympics Italia receives from Institutions and the Government, in order to understand how to strengthen economic support and to increase funding opportunities.

The conclusions lead to improve communication, both internally and externally to the benefit of the Organization, compliant with the principles of good governance.

If, on the one hand, the moral and ethical values of Special Olympics Italia cannot be questioned, on the other hand, investment in communication can strongly improve dialogue with the general public, advertising of Special Olympics mission and activities leading to increased supporters and new sources of funding.

Organizing a Special Olympics event

After 50 years since its establishment, Special Olympics still achieves its mission through Sport, creating a healthier, more inclusive world for all people with intellectual disabilities.

Many progresses have been made in recent years. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the World Health Organization (WHO)’s World Report on Disability have helped to change the way people with disabilities are considered, not as individuals requiring others’ charity but rather as full members of society.

Special Olympics has played a major role in this change, by actively promoting the UNCRPD’s principles.

Through providing opportunities for almost 5 million athletes in 170 countries, Special Olympics actively promotes the UNCRPD principle of “full and effective participation and inclusion in society” by enabling athletes to master skills that increase confidence and ability to succeed in life, highlighting and addressing massive disparities in access to sport, schooling and health care for people with ID, increasing families’ knowledge and expectations of what athletes can achieve, changing aptitudes to create inclusion in schools, communities and society at large.

Although many goals have been reached in this process, people with ID still face stigma, suffering discrimination, social isolation and injustice every day of their lives. They are routinely ignored or excluded by society, and in many cultures, little or no value is placed on their worth or abilities.

Today only 44% of people believes that person with ID can engage in a simple conversation, while many countries do not even gather data on intellectual disability.

This situation could be even more challenging in considering that many people all over the world, with and without ID, live in poverty in countries characterized by a weak economy and providing poor social welfare systems.

Special Olympics is a sports organisation that, at the very core of its activity, uses the power of sport as a catalyst for social change. As a matter of fact, the organization seeks to change society through sport, highlighting its transformative power to instil confidence, improve health and inspire a sense of competition that breaks down misperceptions and negative aptitudes.

That is why the focus of Special Olympics is to concentrate in organising sports events to give Athletes opportunities to demonstrate their abilities, to better integrate in the society and to spread the Special Olympics’ message.

Our sports events bring together a large and inclusive community of athletes, supporters, families, coaches, volunteers and many others. The athletes are the centre focus, sharing the joy among themselves, their families and their communities. These events help us all rediscover the purity of sports and real athletic pursuits based on true Olympic ideals.

Until a few years ago, Special Olympics Italia was characterized by a very paradoxical situation. In fact, the hard work conveyed in the organisation of sport events was not publicised, because considered not attractive for the mass media, especially for the television broadcasting. In this regard, the absence of an appropriate communication s of the media leads an event, even if well organized, to remain just a beautiful experience for the athletes, volunteers and family members. Thus, to promote a real and concrete “cultural change”, which is the main goal Special Olympics aspires to reach, there is a need to focus on a strategy to raise media awareness and sensitivity to properly address the issue and spread the Special Olympics message to the outside world.

Fortunately, in 2015 the World Summer Games were organized in Los Angeles, with the participation of approximately 143 Italian Athletes and Coaches. In that occasion, the aptitude of Special Olympics Italia was crucial to determine a radical change of the Italian mass media’s approach towards disability.

The purpose of this case study is to analyse how the relationship between Special Olympics Italia sports events sector and the Italian media coverage has changed and, finally, try to point out future actions to improve their cooperation.


Alessandra Palazzotti

National Director

Special Olympics Italia


Via di Decima, 40