“Winning can be about a lot more than winning medals. Winning is about just doing better, and doing something that you have not done before - that’s when you see the spirit of sport,” Invictus Games ambassador and multi gold medal Olympian, Ian Thorpe.
By Michael Pirrie
The recent announcement of pending parenthood by Prince Harry and new wife Meghan Markle has sparked a global guessing game of possible names for the next royal baby. While royal experts have nominated Albert or Victoria as among the most likely, Invictus could be in with a sporting chance.
Although not a traditional royal moniker, Invictus could come into possible consideration given Harry’s role as father figure of the Invictus Games. The sporting phenomenon Harry created for war injured military men and women has touched, transformed and even saved competitors' lives.
While Harry and Meghan’s high-profile visit to Australia has included many of the staples, this royal expedition was planned to enable Harry to attend the Invictus Games in Sydney and also participate in key events at iconic 2000 Olympics venues.
Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle at Invictus Games in Sydney (Twitter/Invictus Games Foundation)
Invictus was conceived by Harry after attending the US Warrior Games for wounded members of America’s armed forces. He brought them to life in London in 2014, with a little help from "the firm" and some of Harry’s closest friends and advisors.
These included Keith Mills, who is also in Sydney to help oversee the Invictus proceedings. Mills is a world leader in strategic marketing and a key London 2012 Olympic Games organiser. He led the London team that delivered the first Invictus Games within the tight six-month period available on the international schedule.
I was fortunate to be part of preparations for the first Invictus project before it even had a name. I fondly recall discussions in central London offices to narrow down the possible list as the new sporting event and brand came together.
Sport in Turbulent Times
It soon became clear that Invictus would be an event of the times, using sport to help heal the physical, mental, personal and national wounds of war.
Prince Harry was involved in all major planning decisions. He used his charisma and connections to mobilize support stretching across more than 12 nations.
Harry settled on the name of Invictus from the poem that inspired Nelson Mandela during his epic struggle against apartheid. The omens were looking good.
Invictus would be a different international event, based on sport, hope, cutting edge biotechnology, and resilience of the human spirit.
Indoor volleyball at Sydney Invictus Games (Twitter/@InvictusSydney)
I remember especially the extraordinary stories of bravery, survival and recovery in circumstances of almost incomprehensible adversity that emerged as the first participants registered.
These included competitors who had lost limbs stepping onto concealed explosive devices or trying to dismantle active bombs while in the service of their country. Some suffered traumatic brain damage and extreme stress, depression, or personality disorders.
Despite such horrific injuries and setbacks, Invictus competitors found the motivation o somehow carry on, compete, and represent their nation again – this time on the sporting field instead of the battlefield.
One example is British Lance Corporal Derek Derenalagi, who was pronounced dead after being blown up by an explosive device in Afghanistan. While a body bag was being prepared for him, a medical officer detected a pulse and saved him.
Invictus Games 2018 opening ceremony in Sydney (Invictus Games 2018)
If sport was the motivation, it could also be their salvation.
At the Orlando event, I recall Sarah Rudder, a Marine who lost one of her legs following an injury suffered while helping recover bodies from the debris of the 9/11 Pentagon attack.
Rudder, who won the first gold medal in Orlando, said: “Sport saved my life. It showed me that I can do and be something, and that I can be part of a community again."
Sport Like Never Before
The Invictus Games has also witnessed performances never seen before on the sporting field.
“I don’t think anything could be more inspiring than seeing a guy who lay bleeding to death in a ditch in Afghanistan now running 100 metres in Paralympic time,” said Invictus Games participant, Royal Marine Andy Grant.
The respected sports commentator Rob Hughes said: "If there is a single theme to their efforts, it is spelt out by the athletes themselves. They have no time, or inclination, for self pity.”
Invincible Invictus Appeal
The Sydney Invictus Games will involve more than 500 participants from 18 nations, making it the largest edition of the Invictus franchise.
Many events are taking place at Sydney Olympic Park, the setting for the 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Prince Harry speaking at opening ceremony of Sydney Invictus Games (Twitter @InvictusSydney)
The foundations for the Invictus Games in Sydney revolve around Australia’s proud military and sporting traditions. Those are the same twin themes that have shaped Harry’s own personal Invictus journey. His aunt, Princess Anne, is an Olympian as well as a member of both the IOC and the British Olympic Association. For decades his grandmother -- Queen Elizabeth -- has led national and international memorial services and tributes to the war dead and injured. She strongly supports Invictus.
Band of Brothers in Sport
As I witnessed at Invictus in Orlando, Harry uses his understanding of the horrors of war based on active duty in Afghanistan to bond with Invictus competitors no matter where they call home.
Harry does this with warmth and empathy. He communicates his message of hope through sport in ways that I have not seen by a major sporting event figure or leader do before,
other than London 2012 Olympic Games leader and current IAAF President Sebastian Coe.
Poolside in Orlando, Invictus Games ambassador and multiple gold medal Olympian Ian Thorpe tellingly observed: “Winning can be about a lot more than winning medals. Winning is about just doing better and doing something that you have not done before - that’s when you see the spirit of sport.”
Prince of Sport
Prince Harry is the first royal to start and lead an international sports event, and has inherited his mother Diana’s passion for taking on important causes. These included the removal of landmines, devices very similar to the IEDs responsible for much of the damage suffered by the Invictus Games participants.
Harry’s Invictus vision has drawn comparisons with that of the founder of the modern Olympic Movement, Pierre de Coubertin, and Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, father of the Paralympic Movement. Both were overlooked for the Nobel Peace Prize -- so far, at least, neither has the impact of Prince Harry’s Invictus Games been widely recognized or appreciated.
Perhaps it is not too late to give the Nobel award to Prince Harry, as successor to these two great visionaries, and in honour of the Invictus Games placing sport back in the service of humanity.
MICHAEL PIRRIE is an international communications and major events consultant and commentator on Olympic and world sport. Michael has worked on Olympic planning and bid committees, and assisted on the London 2014 and Orlando 2016 Invictus Games.
For general comments or questions, click here.
25 Years at #1: Your best source of news about the Olympics is AroundTheRings.com, for subscribers only.