Prince Harry breaks silence just hours before he accepts controversial award he was urged to decline

Prince Harry in the UK last month
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

Prince Harry has reached out to both active military personnel and veterans, just a day before he is due to receive a contentious award.

The Duke of Sussex is set to be honoured with the Pat Tillman Award at the ESPY sports awards in the US tomorrow night.

He's being recognised for his work in establishing the Invictus Games ten years ago, a platform that supports injured and sick servicemen and women, both on active duty and veterans, who are dealing with physical and invisible injuries.

Despite facing criticism over being this year's recipient, Harry has voiced his support for wounded, injured and sick UK personnel and veterans participating in the first-ever winter sports edition of the Invictus Games.

Harry and Meghan at the Invictus Games last year
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the Invictus Games last year -Credit:PA Archive/PA Images

A team of 64, comprising 60 competitors and four reserves, has been selected as Team UK for the Invictus Games Vancouver Whistler in February.

In a message, the Duke expressed his excitement "to see their passion, determination, and resilience on full display as they take on this new chapter".

The Invictus Games was founded by Harry in 2014 as an international adaptive multi-sport event for wounded, injured, and sick servicemen and women, both serving and veterans, as part of their recovery journey.

Harry enthused: "Congratulations to those selected for Team UK for our first-ever Winter Invictus Games in Vancouver Whistler next February.

"Team UK will join over 500 competitors from across 20 nations in this groundbreaking event that expands the range and profile of winter adaptive sports."

The Duke of Sussex speaking during the Invictus Games opening ceremony at the Merkur Spiel-Arena in Dusseldorf, Germany.
The duke has been slammed for not turning down the award as many believe he doesn't deserve it -Credit:PA

"These games present an incredible opportunity for our courageous service personnel and veterans to demonstrate their skills in new challenges like alpine skiing, snowboarding and skeleton, as well as providing a truly memorable experience for their families.

"We're excited to see their passion, determination, and resilience on full display as they take on this new chapter."

The team is a diverse mix of individuals from all services and generations, including some who have sustained serious physical and mental injuries while serving the UK at home or overseas.

Their injuries range from visual impairment and amputation to traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, and other mental health issues.

They were chosen for the positive impact that training for and competing in the games could have on their rehabilitation journey.

Among the team members is captain Stephen 'Hoops' Hooper, who is returning for his second Invictus Games after competing in powerlifting and sitting volleyball at Dusseldorf in 2023.

Hoops served in the RAF and was diagnosed with PTSD before being medically discharged in 2021.

Another team member is Juliet Bale, 54, who served as a nurse in the RAF and Army before being medically discharged following a traumatic brain injury sustained on operation in Kenya.

Louise Assioun, the Royal British Legion's Team UK manager, stated: "For the selected individuals, being part of a team again, representing their country and being around others who are all on their individual recovery pathway is what makes Team UK's journey to the Invictus Games so unique. The Royal British Legion is proud to support them every step of the way."

Admiral Lord Alan West
Former Royal Navy chief Admiral Lord Alan West advised Harry to politely decline the award -Credit:Getty

The news of Harry's message follows a report by The Telegraph that the backlash to the Pat Tillman award and the Living Legend of Aviation award he received earlier this year "presents a pressing problem" for a 'stunned' Harry as he "seeks to build a career upon the foundations of his past military endeavours".

A source revealed to the media that criticism aimed at Prince Harry's work with veterans is particularly hard for him to take.

They said: "Harry's legacy on Invictus, the things he has achieved, that's his real passion. This is the space in which he truly feels at home, it is something he deeply cares about. The reaction certainly took the shine off the award."

The Pat Tillman Award for Service, named after the late NFL player and US Army Ranger Pat Tillman who died in Afghanistan in 2004, has become a point of contention as Prince Harry is set to receive it.

A petition on has been initiated, calling for ESPN to reconsider their choice due to the prince's polarising reputation, while Pat Tillman's mother Mary expressed her astonishment, commenting: "I am shocked as to why they would select such a controversial and divisive individual to receive the award."

Previous winners of the Pat Tillman Award include footballer Marcus Rashford, who led a notable campaign urging the UK Government to provide free meals to disadvantaged children in England during school holidays amidst the Covid pandemic.

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