Peak bodies partner to drive sport inclusion

By Andrea Phillips

September 2020

SPECIAL OLYMPICS Australia has struck a partnership with Gymnastics Australia that will enhance inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in gymnastics across the country. 

The organisations will cooperate on multiple initiatives over the next three years to increase participation pathways for people with intellectual disabilities, such as assimilating Special Olympics competitions into state gymnastics competitions. 

The parties have collaborated closely for the past three years to promote and deliver inclusive sport programs designed to develop participants’ physical literacy. 

Physical literacy describes equipping children with the foundational movement skills and other capabilities they need to stay active throughout their lives.  

Kitty Chiller AM, chief executive of Gymnastics Australia, said the organisation is thrilled to extend the partnership with Special Olympics Australia and to be able to promote gymnastics as an inclusive sport for people of all abilities.  

“We know that gymnastics provides people of all ages with the skills and experiences they need to develop their physical literacy. This is the basic knowledge and behaviours that will give them the confidence and motivation to lead active lives. 

“Community sport brings so much to the lives of millions of Australians and through this partnership, we want to provide more opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to get involved and fall in love with the sport of gymnastics,” Chiller said.  

A key partnership commitment will see Special Olympics Australia and Gymnastics Australia team up to leverage the Australian Government’s Sporting Schools initiative and offer a specifically adapted program for students with intellectual disability.  

The newly inked deal extends and updates the memorandum of understanding under which the parties have been successfully piloting Special Olympics Australia’s Young Athletes program. 

“Community sport brings so much to the lives of millions of Australians and through this partnership, we want to provide more opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to get involved and fall in love with the sport of gymnastics.”

- Kitty Chiller AM, Chief Executive of Gymnastics Australia

The play-based program helps children aged two to eight with and without intellectual disabilities to develop fundamental movement skills.  

Since the pilot kicked off in 2018, Special Olympics Australia and Gymnastics Australia have jointly developed resources and delivered more than 40 programs to around 640 participants in NSW, the ACT, and Victoria.  

The programs are delivered by Gymnastics Australia coaches accredited in the Young Athletes coaching course designed and developed by Special Olympics Australia, which can be completed online through the organisation’s e-learning platform, SOA Learn.  

Special Olympics Australia’s National Young Athletes Manager, Naazmi Johnston, said the alliance benefits both parties. 

“Working in partnership has allowed access to facilities and qualified coaches, which Special Olympics clubs struggle with, while Gymnastics clubs are always looking for programs they can run during the day when they are quiet.”  

This latest partnership incarnation will see their commitment to growing the Young Athletes program nationally continue, providing recreational gymnastics for young children with an intellectual disability as a pathway into Gymnastics Australia’s Kindergym program or Special Olympics club training. 


Visit SOA Learn and Gymnastics Australia webpage for further information about the Young Athletes program


View our Memorandum of Understanding with Gymnastics Australia here



Combining the transformative power of sport and a holistic approach to athlete well-being enables Special Olympics Australia to support a better life for people with an intellectual disability.

Special Olympics Australia strives to ensure that everyone living with an intellectual disability can participate in sport. Our dedicated network of volunteers creates accessible sports training, coaching and competition opportunities that allow people with an intellectual disability to reach their personal best – in sport and in life.

We provide:

  • Weekly grassroots sporting, recreational, social and health activities in local communities around Australia.
  • An environment where people with an intellectual disability can develop physical fitness, build self-esteem, demonstrate courage, and make friends.
  • Competition pathways ranging from weekly club events, to regional, state, and national games, culminating in the Special Olympics World Games.



Special Olympics Australia launched e-learning platform, SOA Learn, in July 2018 to help coaches, teachers and other front-line sport deliverers improve their effectiveness in including people with intellectual disabilities and autism in sport. It comprises resources built on best practice information and provides unique insights into the perspective of people with intellectual disabilities and autism to inform provision of inclusive sports programs.

Courses currently available include:

  • Autism Inclusion in Sport, Recreation and Physical Education Webinar Series: Practical strategies to include people with autism in sport, physical education, and recreation programs.
  • Young Athletes Coaching Course: A play-based program for children with and without intellectual disabilities aged two to eight, Young Athletes focuses on activities that support social and physical growth and creates a transition pathway into a more structured sporting environment. The Young Athletes Coaching Accreditation Course introduces the program, with practical tips and resources to help community coaches, educators and parents teach young children fundamental movement skills.
  • An Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder: An overview of autism; practical strategies that coaches, teachers, and anyone else can use to create welcoming and engaging sport programs for people with autism; and insight into the sporting experiences of people living with the condition.
  • Improving Sport for People with Intellectual Disability: Using latest research from world-leading sporting bodies, this course supports those in community sports clubs and school to include people with intellectual disabilities in sport and provides insight from people with intellectual disabilities.
  • SOA Activity Cards and Activity Cards Coaches’ Guide: Developed in partnership with Sport Australia to help teach sport and physical activity skills to people of all abilities.

SOA Learn has a growing number of registered users, currently totalling more than 3000.