Thousands of athletes and fans will gather in the Twin Cities in June 2026 for the Special Olympics USA games, held every four years in the United States for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
Governor Tim Walz made the announcement Friday at the University of Minnesota’s Huntington Bank Stadium, where he was joined by U President Joan Gabel, UnitedHealthcare CEO Brian Thompson and Dave Dorn, President and CEO of Special Minnesota Olympics.
Walz said it will be the biggest sporting event to take place in the United States in 2026 and will showcase the state’s commitment to inclusion and show “that every person can thrive”.
“I’m incredibly proud to be hosting this event in Minnesota,” Walz said.
The event is expected to attract 4,000 athletes, 10,000 volunteers, 1,500 coaches and 75,000 supporters from across the country, parts of Canada and the Caribbean.
The games will include 15 Olympic-style team and individual sports as well as five demonstration sports competitions not typically held at the state level, such as stand-up paddleboarding and cheerleading. The events will primarily be hosted by the U, but there will be other venues including the M Health Fairview Sports Center in Woodbury.
Two states were finalists in the bid to host the 2026 Special Olympics U.S. Games, said Special Olympics Minnesota spokeswoman Katie Howlett. She said the state organization isn’t disclosing the other finalist because “it feels less like a traditional Olympic bid” and “we’re working toward the same mission of inclusion.”
Gabel said the university is delighted to host the events and will provide accommodations, restaurants, medical facilities as well as the venues where the athletes compete.
“Our university shares the same goals as the Games in transforming lives through inclusion and celebrating the greatest ability in each person,” Gabel said in a statement.
Two former Minnesota participants in the Special Olympics programs were introduced as honorary chairs of the games: Jenna Perkins, a senior at Orono High School, and Danny Striggow, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota.
“We are so proud that Minnesota is part of the inclusion revolution,” Perkins said. Striggow is now a defensive end for Gopher’s football team.
UnitedHealth Group is the “presenting sponsor” of the 2026 games. UnitedHealth’s Thompson said his company has long supported Special Olympics programs. Christine Sovereign, senior managing director and managing director of Accenture’s Minneapolis office, will serve as CEO of Games 2026 and Adam Hjerpe, a UnitedHealth executive, will serve as chairman of the board.
The Minnesota event will be the sixth Special Olympics USA games. The first were in Ames, Iowa, in 2006. The fifth will be in Orlando next month.
Special Olympics describes its mission as providing year-round athletic training and athletic competition for children and adults with developmental disabilities, “providing them with opportunities to develop physical fitness, exercise courage, to experience joy and to participate in sharing gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.”
The games are expected to generate $70 million in economic activity, according to Special Olympics Minnesota. This figure is derived from “historical data from all other United States Special Olympics games held in the past,” Howlett said.
Over the years, some economists have questioned these projections. Allen Sanderson, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, said his general rule is “to take whatever number the sponsoring organization will give you and move the decimal point one place to the left.” So the figure should be closer to $7 million, said Sanderson, who does economic impact studies on big-ticket sporting events.
He said, for example, if an out-of-state visitor pays $200 a night for a hotel room, that money goes to the company’s headquarters elsewhere, not in Minnesota. Locals who spend money on tickets, food and drink would spend it elsewhere in Minnesota if the Special Olympics weren’t in town, he said. There will be benefits for hotel and restaurant workers, he said.
The Twin Cities hosted the 1991 Special Olympics International Games, which drew nearly 130,000 fans for seven days of competition in 16 sports. About 6,000 athletes from all over the world took part.