A challenge many Special Olympics Programs face is determining when it is appropriate to add new sports. An even greater challenge presents itself when participation diminishes and Programs are confronted with the prospect of eliminating a sport. These challenges are being discussed throughout the country with best practices being shared to help guide Programs through the process.
Since Programs routinely receive requests to add new sports, a mechanism must be in place to evaluate the potential success of any new sport. Some factors we consider are:
- Does the sport offer continued growth potential for a wide spectrum of current and potential athletes throughout the state?
- Does adding the sport cause significant hardship on the current competition schedule?
- Is adding the sport financially feasible for the organization and for agencies?
- Will there be meaningful competition that allows for fair and equitable divisions?
Similar components may also apply when evaluating currently offered sports with declining interest or low participation. Special Olympics Illinois realizes and appreciates the fact that athletes and their families are passionate and committed to the sports they participate in. However, even though it is difficult for all involved, participation levels in some sports are very low and must be evaluated to determine the future of these sports and how they affect overall programming opportunities within the state.
Special Olympics Illinois has finalized guidelines for adding new sports and guidelines for determining the future of sports with declining or low participation. The first step that Programs are encouraged to use when assessing declining or low participation sports is to survey agencies to determine if enough interest exists that will result in an increase in participation numbers.
Later this month, SOILL is sending a survey to every agency asking for their feedback on the potential to offer the sports of cross country skiing, figure skating and speed skating at their agency. Agencies that already offer these sports will be asked about the potential to expand participation. The survey includes questions about what resources SOILL could provide to agencies to allow them to implement or expand participation in any of these sports. The survey should be completed by the person at the agency who oversees budget and programming decisions and will be open through Nov. 30, 2016.
SOILL will use survey responses to determine if resources and support can be provided to grow participation in the sport(s). If responses indicate interest will not increase regardless of resource support, then the sport(s) will be eliminated after the 2017 state tournaments in each of the sports. If a sport is slated for elimination, then SOILL will try to identify other competitive opportunities that may exist that athletes in these sports could transition to that would still allow them opportunities to compete.