Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, American History. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 29 March 2023

Special Olympics in the US Territories of American Sāmoa, Guam, and Puerto Ricolocked

Special Olympics in the US Territories of American Sāmoa, Guam, and Puerto Ricolocked

  • Juliann AnesiJuliann AnesiUCLA, Gender Studies/Asian American Studies


The Special Olympics organization has humble beginnings—it started in the backyard of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, an American philanthropist, and member of the Kennedy family. The first games were held in 1968, and the Special Olympics has developed to convey a political message of the importance of including people with intellectual disabilities in sports and as members of the larger society. The Special Olympics is a program with more than one million participants and half a million volunteers. Although the Special Olympics is not quite at the scale of the Olympics in terms of international participation, sponsorship, and audience, the games still mimic the spirit of competition and inclusion through sports. The games continue to serve athletes, families, and the community by challenging (often erroneous) conceptions about people with intellectual disabilities. The games provide social interaction and the opportunity for achievement, both on and off the playing field for disabled people. Worldwide, individuals with intellectual disabilities are serious in their endeavor to be physically active.

The Special Olympics organization has also been endorsed by local communities in the US territories of American Sāmoa, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Addressing inclusion through sports in the US territories can shed a light on the complicated uneven political relations that the territories or colonies have with the United States—specifically, the unfulfilled promise of inclusion by the United States for the territories when thinking about statehood, citizenship, and representation under the Constitution. The Special Olympics purports a project centered around inclusion and belonging for disabled people within the territories that is often on the periphery of US foreign relations. Disability is a critical category of analysis that can lead to an understanding of how the three aforementioned territories are examples of mapping, control, and subjugation of the human body and mind as core features of colonial conquest. The Special Olympics organization exposes the presence and significance of disability within colonialism—in particular, “how disability remains present in the establishment, maintenance, and continuation of colonial structures of power”—as these territories are often occupied and governed by US jurisprudence, but their citizens do not garner the same rights as US citizens on the “mainland.”

The Special Olympics, with its goal of inclusion, is commonly seen as a national project that aims to better the lives of disabled people. Unfortunately, these efforts of inclusion are somewhat limited in scope, especially with regards to the politics of governance, voting rights, and gaining independence in the broader US legislative processes. Based solely on place of residence, people who live in the territories are denied voting representation in the House of Congress, even though Congress possesses plenary authority over local territorial matters. Thus, coupling the spirit of inclusion through sports with the social and political challenges in the territories, may reinforce colonial approaches to inclusion. Here, thinking about citizenship mirrors the difficult situation of those living in the territories—and fuels what some would consider paternalist forms of governance of the territories, a theme that reflects the power relations of the United States with its territories.

The complicated relations between the unincorporated territories as military posts for the United States is a pressing issue, as people in these communities continue to fight for sovereignty and demilitarization from the United States. The constant struggle for decolonization is ongoing. In terms of governance, much of the territories are ruled from afar, a point that feeds into paternalist politics of inclusion and condescending policies imposed on territories without their input. For example, this point is further implemented under the Article 4, Section 3, of the US Constitution, known as the “territorial clause,” which gives Congress broad authority to govern US territories. Puerto Rico is the most populous US territory. Others include American Sāmoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands. They are granted various measures of self-rule but lack their own sovereignty. Given such inconsistencies in political relations, the question then becomes, what does inclusion through sports convey within colonial and occupied territories with longstanding, fraught political relations to the United States?


  • Political History
  • Cultural History

You do not currently have access to this article


Please login to access the full content.


Access to the full content requires a subscription