The Invictus Games: What They Are And Exactly How Prince Harry Is Involved

In 2013, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, attended a competition for wounded athletes in the United States and he was immediately inspired by what he saw. One year later the duke, The Royal Foundation, and The Ministry of Defence hosted the inaugural Invictus Games in London. The Invictus Games are an inclusive, adaptive world competition for service personnel, including veterans, that focuses on what can be achieved through sport after service injury. Harry believes in the power of sport to help heal and wanted to provide an avenue for therapeutic competition in his own homeland.

At the five-year anniversary celebration of the Invictus Games, Prince Harry admitted they didn't know what they were getting themselves into when they pursued the idea. "We genuinely had no idea the impact this was going to have." He continued, "We always knew that it was going to be great for the competitors and their families but that ripple effect that literally swept across the globe was quite astonishing."

The Invictus Games' inspiration is felt far beyond the military community. At the anniversary celebration, the prince referred to receiving emails from severely injured, bed-bound civilians who were inspired to push harder in their own recoveries after seeing the injured servicemen and servicewomen compete in the Games. Despite the pandemic setbacks, the competition is thriving and the sixth Invictus Games will be hosted in Düsseldorf, Germany, in September 2023. Let's take a closer look at the Invictus Games and how Prince Harry has shaped this worldwide event.

The Warrior Games that inspired Prince Harry

A 2013 trip to the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs would change Prince Harry's life. The royal was in attendance to cheer on the British team in the competition and to be featured in the opening ceremonies; he assisted Navy Lt. Bradley Snyder with the lighting of the cauldron.

The Warrior Games was meant to be a competition for U.S. personnel, but they had invited athletes from the U.K. to attend in 2012, and Prince Harry joined the British athletes when they returned in 2013. The duke spent time with some of the athletes and asked about their injuries and experiences with rehabilitation, according to the Associated Press. Prince Harry also got into the action and attempted to learn some of the sports, including sitting volleyball. 

The U.S. Department of Defense is the host of the Warrior Games and had only begun the competition in 2010, a mere three years before the prince's fateful visit that would inspire the Invictus Games. The Warrior Games began as part of the larger U.S. program called Warrior Care, which is the program that coordinates the recovery of service personnel and veterans.

Harry's military experience influences his relationship with veterans

The Duke of Sussex has an extensive history of military service. Known as Captain Harry Wales, he served in the British Army, including the Air Corps, for 10 years and completed two tours to Afghanistan. He became an Apache aircraft commander and rose to the rank of captain before he retired in 2015. Prince Harry's time with the military forever changed him, and he's been invested in the armed forces ever since.

The prince deeply respected his service mates. When he was pulled out of a deployment early due to a press leak of his location, he was disappointed over his early departure. "I'd like to still be out there with the guys," he said at the time, as reported by CNN. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm out here as a normal JTAC on the ground and not Prince Harry."

That attitude extends to everything he touches, including the Invictus Games. As a fellow veteran, he understood what returning soldiers would need to return to their families and heal. The service personnel he works with appreciate that he has firsthand experience. "He knows what it's like out there," British Army Capt. Dave Henson told the Associated Press (via USA Today). "[Harry's] been on the ground and in the air."

Prince Harry cares deeply for veterans' mental health and wellness

Many soldiers retire from service for mental health reasons, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). U.S. Veterans Affairs reported that 23% of VA users and 7% of non-users have PTSD in their lifetime. According to Pharmacy & Therapeutics, psychological trauma that is induced by fighting in wars has been well-documented throughout history. Prince Harry has been transparent about his own struggle with PTSD following his mother's tragic death, and he understands firsthand that it's something that requires therapy and time to heal.

Sport can help with the recovery process, and the Invictus Games and sport participation has played a role in helping soldiers process and heal from psychological wounds. Retired Master Corporal Joel Guidon told U.S. Veterans Magazine that he credits the Invictus Games and adaptive sports for helping him enjoy his life again after he came back from Bosnia and Afghanistan with PTSD. 

What's more, the sense of community at the tournament is beyond apparent. At the 2018 Invictus Games, an interaction between veterans Paul Guest and Edwin Vermetten really stuck with the prince. As the Daily Mail reported at the time, Vermetten helped Guest work through his PTSD in the middle of a tennis match by singing "Let It Go" from the movie "Frozen." In the closing remarks, Harry called attention to the importance of that moment, noting that it was "what mateship really looks like."

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Harry continues to be involved with the Invictus Games

The Invictus Games motto, "I AM," was taken from two lines of a poem by William Ernest Henley: "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul." Prince Harry told People he connected with these lines because he believes in inspiring others to remember they are in charge of their own lives, even in the face of adversity. The Duke of Sussex has been outspoken about taking control of his own mental health and life path — so much so that Harry and Meghan Markle officially stepped down from their royal association and duties on March 31, 2020.

Despite Harry pulling back from his role in the monarchy, he still remains the Patron of the Invictus Games Foundation. In this role, he is to promote the Invictus Games and raise money to support its mission, which the duke will continue to do. The 2023 Netflix docuseries "Heart of Invictus" is one way he's contributing to the future of the Games. In a statement to Archewell, Dominic Reid, Chief Executive of the Foundation, said, "[The Netflix] partnership will also bring in significant funding to the charity. We are extremely grateful to our Founding Patron for his continued efforts to support the military community, and for making this partnership happen." A Foundation spokesperson told Newsweek that the prince "remains as involved as ever."

The Invictus Games are back following the pandemic

The Foundation's goal is to host the Invictus Games every two years, but it's been a mix of dates as the event started and found its footing, only to be sidelined by the pandemic in 2020. The first Invictus Games was held in London in 2014. The Games moved to North America for the next two rounds when Orlando hosted in 2016 and Toronto hosted in 2017. Sydney hosted in 2018, and then the 2020 Games were postponed. Two years later, the Foundation felt ready to host again. In a joint press release provided to Vanity Fair, Foundation Chairman Sir Keith Mills and Prince Harry stated, "Our unwavering mission is one bound by resilience and community—and that mission will continue to shine through between now and Spring 2022 when we hope to see everybody in person again in The Hague."

In a statement on the event website, Mills related the history of The Hague to the unique journey of the wounded warrior: "Post-War, The Hague has undergone its own process of rebuilding and rehabilitation, a theme many of those competing can intimately relate to. A city transformed, The Hague inspired a nation." In a separate statement, The Government of the Netherlands touched on how the games could be a boon in the wake of the pandemic: "This kind of upheaval can have a negative impact on people's mental health, but sport offers a way to rebuild confidence in the future."

Countries apply to host the Invictus Games

In 2021, the Invictus Games announced the top three cities being considered for the 2025 tournament: New York City, Seattle, and Vancouver-Whistler. In their bids to host, the cities noted past experiences of hosting large sporting events and shared ideas for the Games. 

In the end, the 2025 tournament went to Vancouver-Whistler, which presented the option to include a winter sports hybrid for the first time in the Invictus Games. Per Sporting Host Vancouver, Prince Harry said in a statement, "The Invictus Games Vancouver-Whistler 2025 will offer a global platform to expand the range and profile of winter adaptive sports. With deep respect, I'm also pleased to share that the Games in Canada will be held in partnership with the First Nations, in the spirit of truth and reconciliation with indigenous communities." The games are set to take place on the traditional territories of the x ʷ məθ kʷə y əm (Musqueam), S ḵwxw ú7mesh (Squamish), St ó:lō and S ə l ílw ətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, Skalulmecw L íl wat ̓ Nation, and the G élpcal L ílwat Nation.

The number of countries in the Invictus Games is steadily growing

As the popularity of the Invictus Games takes hold, the event sees continued interest in expanding the roster to include more countries. While the first Games in London had 13 countries, the most recent Games in The Hague had over 500 athletes and 20 participating countries.

It was announced in 2022 that two new continents were to join the Invictus Games Foundation: Colombia became the first country to represent South America at the event, and Nigeria became the first country to represent Africa. Prince Harry said in a statement, "The world felt the power of our Invictus community last month in The Hague, and now, I am delighted to announce that we have two new nations — Colombia and Nigeria — joining our inspiring international family. As we continue to harness the power of sport in recovery and rehabilitation year-round, I'm proud to share that Invictus is now represented across every continent (except Antarctica)!"

Countries who participate in the Foundation still have to be invited to the Invictus Games. Joining the Foundation gives member countries access to the We Are Invictus platform, the Powered by Invictus leagues, the Invictus: Endeavour Programme grants for sports and adventurous challenges, and to the IGF Conversation series, sharing best practices amongst the community.

The adapted sports that are played in the Invictus Games

The 2023 Invictus Games in Düsseldorf will include archery, track and field, indoor rowing, powerlifting, road cycling, sitting volleyball, table tennis, swimming, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair rugby. The teams and individuals compete in an Olympic-style format in which there is a gold, silver, or bronze medal award for the top three competitors.

Many of the sports have similar rules and concepts to their non-adapted counterparts. For example, in sitting volleyball, the team still has three contacts per side and plays sets to 25 points, but the competitors play from a seated position on a smaller court. The seated format gives amputees a chance to play competitive rallies from the floor. Road cycling bikes and athlete wheelchairs can also be fitted to accommodate various injuries and amputations.

When the Invictus Games makes its 2025 debut in Vancouver, the event will be the first winter-hybrid Games and include the adaptive winter sports of alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, skeleton, and wheelchair curling. "Canadians create environments that value and respect individuals for their diverse talents, and the Invictus Games will showcase that to the world," said National Defence Minister Anita Anand, per Global News.

How the Invictus Games competitors are chosen

Each nation can decide how the athletes are selected to participate in the Invictus Games. The Foundation has a few basic rules that must be followed. The individuals must be servicemen and servicewomen including veterans who have been wounded, injured, or fallen ill during, or as a consequence of service. Unlike other world sporting events, Invictus Games competitors must earn the chance to compete in the Games by participating in special programs and camps designed to help soldiers and veterans heal from injuries through sport.

The U.S. delegation is led by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command on behalf of the Department of Defense. In late 2022, the U.S. Army announced the 59 athletes chosen to represent the U.S. in Dusseldorf Invictus Games in 2023. Athletes represent all branches of the U.S. military, including Special Operations and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Canadian athletes take part in a program called Soldier On and can be selected to participate in the Invictus Games. "The selection of Team Canada members was a fair and transparent process, with input from a variety of key stakeholder groups," reads the Soldier On website. "Selections were made based on who could most benefit from the experience, ensuring representation of all ill and injured demographics of both serving Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans."

The Netflix documentary about the Invictus Games will debut in 2023

In the summer of 2023, Netflix is set to release a documentary about the Invictus Games called "Heart of Invictus." The documentary footage comes from the 2020 Games that were held in The Hague in 2022 due to being postponed for the COVID-19 pandemic. Archewell Productions, which was founded by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, produced the documentary in partnership with the Invictus Games Foundation. The Oscar-winning team of director Orlando von Einsiedel and producer Joanna Natasegara ("The White Helmets," "Virunga") were brought on to direct and produce, respectively.

In a statement on the Archewell site, Prince Harry said of the docuseries, "Since the very first Invictus Games back in 2014, we knew that each competitor would contribute in their own exceptional way to a mosaic of resilience, determination, and resolve. This series will give communities around the world a window into the moving and uplifting stories of these competitors on their path to the Netherlands next year." Episodes will focus on individual athlete stories as the athletes prepare for the Games in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

Meghan Markle and Harry signed a multi-year deal with Netflix, and through their production hub, they will release programming that consists of documentaries, feature films, scripted shows, and children's programs made to inform, educate, and inspire. Ted Sarandos of Netflix said in a statement, "The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the Archewell Productions team are building an ambitious slate that reflects the values and causes they hold dear."