On-field physical activity of Special Olympics athletes and Unified Partners during the 2022 Special Olympics World Unified Cup

J Intellect Disabil Res. 2024 Feb;68(2):164-172. doi: 10.1111/jir.13102. Epub 2023 Nov 7.


Background: Special Olympics is a sport organisation spearheading efforts to increase physical activity accessibility through inclusive sport. The Unified Sports® initiative brings together Special Olympics athletes (with intellectual disabilities) and Unified partners (without a disability) in sport training and competition on the same team. The study aims to objectively evaluate differences in on-field physical activity levels between athletes and partners during the 2022 Special Olympics World Unified Cup, an international soccer (i.e., football) competition. Participants were Special Olympics athletes (n = 96; 44 females, 52 males) and Unified partners (n = 70; 34 females and 36 males) competing in the women's and men's tournaments.

Methods: On-field actigraph accelerometry measured physical activity from 166 players, over 29 matches, and totalling 493 player-matches.

Results: In the women's tournament, nearly identical estimates of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity levels (MVPA) were observed between athletes and partners (P = .409). However, a significant group difference was observed within a specific physical activity intensity category as partners accrued more minutes of very vigorous physical activity than athletes (P < .001). In the men's tournament, no significant differences were also observed between athletes and partners for minutes of MVPA (P = .341), but athletes engaged in significantly more vigorous physical activity (P < .001), and partners had more minutes of very vigorous physical activity (P < .001).

Conclusions: The results suggest that on-field physical activity levels were similar between players with and without intellectual disabilities during Unified Sports competition.

Keywords: competition; disability; football; physical activity; soccer; special olympics.

MeSH terms

  • Athletes
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability*
  • Male
  • Soccer*
  • Sports*