The Duke of Sussex has said his Invictus Games heroes have changed society’s perception of disability and mental health as he celebrated the event’s five-year anniversary.
Harry said the wounded servicemen, women and veterans who have competed in the past four games have not only saved their own lives, but those of others they have inspired.
Hundreds of former Invictus Games athletes from across the globe, supporters of the games and senior backroom staff gathered in the City of London to mark the milestone.
The duke told his guests: “I think, in the last five years, these guys have completely changed how we view disability, how we view mental health. This is all them.
“We merely created a platform in order for them to shine and it’s genuinely been one of the greatest honours of my life to get to know all you guys and to see you through this process.
“We’ve had some laughs, we’ve had some tears, and I can’t ever thank you enough for the impact that you have had across the world, to be able to create better understanding for those people who put the uniform on.”
Harry was inspired to found the global tournament after attending the Warrior Games in Colorado in 2013 and seeing how injured American military personnel thrived on the challenge of taking part in competitive sports that aided their recovery.
He went on to stage the inaugural games in London’s Olympic Park in 2014, followed by Orlando in 2016, Toronto in 2017 and Sydney in 2018, with The Hague chosen for the 2020 event.
Organisers have said that after 2020, Invictus will be staged every two years.
Looking back over the past five years, Harry joked about some of the changes, including the birth of children to some of those involved – including his own son Archie and two children born to 2014 competitor JJ Chalmers, a former Royal Marine who is now a sports broadcaster and who spoke before the duke.
Harry said: “Wow, what a huge amount has happened in five years. Medals have been won, children have been born – not mine necessarily, but JJ’s.
“The one thing that hasn’t happened is limbs haven’t grown back. But one thing I can assure you is that mental health has completely changed with every single one of these individuals.
“I think when we first started out on this adventure, no-one really knew… we genuinely had no idea the impact this was going to have.”
Harry mingled with his guests after his speech and spoke to Italian officer Colonel Pasquale Barriera, who competed in the London and Orlando games.
The officer, who uses a wheelchair after being injured in an accident while serving in Afghanistan, said afterwards: “We chatted about how we met in London in 2014, Italy came last in a driving event and he reminded me how I joked you could change the rules but Italy would always come last.
“My life started to change after I began to compete in the games – in terms of sport, my environment, my family, for everyone. I started to live again with the Invictus Games.”