Prince Harry shocked the world when he stepped back from his royal duties along with his wife, American actress Meghan Markle, but he has remained committed to the charities and initiatives founded from his time as an official royal (via Town and Country). One of the highest responsibilities the prince still takes on is the Invictus Games, an international sporting competition for sick and wounded veterans founded by Harry back in 2014.
The Invictus Games are designed to promote camaraderie and demonstrate how sport can help heal the body not just physically, but psychologically and socially. Four editions of the games have taken place, each one attracting world leaders, headlines, thousands of audience members, and hundreds of competitors from over a dozen nations, from the United Kingdom to Jordan to New Zealand. Though the most recently scheduled games were postponed for the global health crisis, the competition shows no sign of slowing down, and neither does the enthusiasm of Prince Harry despite his newfound civilian status.
The first games were partially funded by fines
According to Royal, Prince Harry and his charity coordinated with the Ministry of Defence to host the inaugural Invictus Games in London. The name comes from the Latin word for "unconquered," inspired by a poem penned by amputee William Ernest Henley (via Town and Country). The name is said to embody the fighting spirit of the wounded personnel that compete in the games.
The 2014 games had over 400 competitors from 13 countries compete in nine sporting events over four days. Tens of thousands of people flocked into the venues to support the competing veterans, and the scope of the event and logistics behind its organization weren’t cheap. Prince Harry and his staff found an interesting way to subsidize the cost: bank fines. According to Mental Floss, banks that were manipulating currency exchange rates and subsequently fined rounded up a tidy 1 million pounds that were directed toward the running costs of the first Invictus Games; Prince Harry matched the "donation" with his Royal Foundation to keep things running smoothly.
The Invictus Games continued to grow
The next games were held two years later at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World, in Orlando, Florida (via Invictus Games Foundation). Already the scope of the games was widening: 487 athletes from 14 different countries traveled to the Sunshine State to compete in the second Invictus Games, again drawing massive crowds and corporate interest, with appearances from esteemed world leaders and political figures like first lady Michelle Obama.
The events have to be adapted to the injuries and disabilities of the participating veterans. Indoor rowing machines are used in place of actual rowboats, and sitting volleyball is used in place of the original, standing version of the sport (via Mental Floss). Some of these adaptations are just as brutal as their counterparts, if not more so; wheelchair rugby can look more like a "Mad Max" battle than an Olympic sport at times. The Orlando Games were also the first to have non-human competitors, albeit unofficially, when some service dogs took part in an impromptu race around the pool.
Obama, Biden, and Springsteen got involved
Though the Orlando games needed an extra year of preparation to gather the funding necessary (apparently the bank fines weren’t as big of financial pull that year), the next edition of the Invictus Games were able to take place the year following the Floridian competition (via Royal). Again, the growth of the games was apparent as 540 veterans across 17 nations came together to compete in the third Invictus Games, this time held in Toronto. The events were held across eight days, already double the length of the inaugural games three years prior.
Twelve sporting events were held for these games, including the debut of the relay race, according to the Invictus Games Foundation. As a symbol of the competition’s growth, a new organization called the Invictus Games Organising Committee was founded after the success of the first two editions of the games. This new committee helped prepare the Toronto tournament, which coincided with Canada’s 150th anniversary, taking the Invictus Games beyond sport and camaraderie and into a celebration and remembrance of Canada’s service men and women. The scope of the competition extended to its guests as well: Barack Obama and Joe Biden attended the competition, and the closing ceremony saw a musical performance from Bruce Springsteen (via Mental Floss).
COVID gave the games some trouble
The Sydney games in 2018 saw a slight decrease in numbers, with 491 competitors duking it out across 11 events (via Invictus Games Foundation). According to Town and Country, the competitor pool was more diverse than ever despite the slight decrease in numbers, with 18 nations taking the trip Down Under. The next edition of the games were due to take place in the Netherlands, with two new debuting countries bringing participants, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the competition to be postponed to 2021, and then again to 2022.
When the games do get underway in The Hague, sometime in the spring, it will reach the heights of the 500+ player count of Toronto while surpassing the diversity of Sydney. The city was chosen for its symbolism, having gone under a period of regrowth and rediscovery after the Second World War, something which Prince Harry saw fitting for his war-torn competitors as they adapt to life after their injuries. The Invictus Games show no sign of slowing down, with the 2023 games in Düsseldorf already announced.
A Netflix series is in the works
The 2022 games will have something unique to them: a behind-the-scenes camera crew. According to Deadline, Harry and Meghan’s production company, Archwell Productions, will have a first taste of the Netflix spotlight with "Heart of Invictus," a documentary series that will follow athletes from around the globe as they prepare for the Invictus Games. Cameras will follow their training and road to the games, along with the organizers as they prepare to host an international sports competition during the COVID era.
As with everything Invictus, Prince Harry will be involved, both on camera and as an executive producer on the series. The show will illuminate the struggles and bravery of those involved to a wider audience who might not even know of the existence of the Invictus Games, despite its growing popularity and scope. It’s a project of passion about a project of passion that will hopefully provide just a little bit of inspiration to a world that sorely needs some.