Good morning everyone.
Can I start by also sending my thoughts to those affected by Saturday’s attack in London Bridge. Australians form an important and vibrant part of the fabric of life in London and we are reminded of that in good times and bad. Our hearts go out to the victims, their friends and families.
It’s just over a hundred days to the beginning of the next Invictus Games in Toronto, and I’m delighted to be here with you and your families as you prepare for the final team trials and a chance to represent Australia again.
I am also glad that I have this opportunity to explain to the people of Australia why the Invictus Games are so important to me, and why I think it will be important for all of them too.
In February 2008 I was forced to leave Afghanistan. I’d been serving as an officer in the British Army until my presence on the front line leaked out in the press. I could no longer stay with my soldiers, as it would have put them at greater risk. It was a decision over which I had no control, but the guilt of having to leave my guys behind was something I found hard to swallow, as anyone who has served will understand.
It was that flight home from Afghanistan which put me on the path to create the Invictus Games. While we sat waiting to board, the coffin of a Danish soldier was loaded onto the plane. Also on the flight were three young British soldiers in induced comas; all three were wrapped in plastic, some with missing limbs and tubes coming out of them everywhere. The sacrifices we ask our servicemen and women to make, came home to me so powerfully in those moments.
Four years later, after another tour in Afghanistan, I began to look for ways in which I could support those veterans who had returned with injuries that, in previous years, simply would have been un-survivable. And when I visited the Warrior Games in Colorado in 2013, I knew what we had to do.
Sport is what would make the difference. Sport would help these guys and girls fix their lives and reconnect with those around them. And the spectacle of sport combined with stories of recovery against the odds, would inspire everyone who saw it.
I left Colorado with the determination to take this to an international audience, so more people could see what I saw. Lives had been changed in front of my eyes –
amazing men and women proving the impossible is possible.
That is exactly what we did when we held the first Invictus Games in 2014. We put on a show that attracted an audience of tens of thousands in the stands and many millions on television. Last year we achieved it again in the US, providing an even bigger platform for these inspiring men and women to tell their stories to the world. And in September, we will do it again in Toronto, with more competitors, more sports, and more spectators than ever before. And when I say we, I mean all of us.
I was lucky to have spent time with several units in the Australian Defence Force when I was here in 2015. I am also lucky enough to call a number of Diggers my mates, having walked to the South Pole, sweated while on exercise on Kangaroo Flats outside Darwin, and joined them for the centenary commemorations at Gallipoli. Having served in the Army for 10 years I think I understand what makes service men and women tick; through my connections to the ADF, I now have an appreciation of what it means to be a Digger and the admiration people have for you, not just here but across the world.
We are here today because in 500 days the Invictus Games will be held in one of the most sport mad countries and iconic cities in the world. As Founding Patron of the Invictus Games Foundation, I am so pleased that Australia and New South Wales will be taking on the Invictus baton from Canada and Toronto.
As Australians know better than anyone, sport has an unparalleled ability to bring people together; for those recovering from injury it has the ability to re-focus the mind, to bring a sense of purpose and boost self-confidence. The benefits which come from sport goes beyond the individual, it positively impacts their family too. I know all of you here today would agree that sport can change, and in some cases, save lives.
Invictus also reminds us all of the amazing contribution that our servicemen, women and veterans make. You need look no further than the remarkable sportsmanship showed by Mark Urquhart at the Invictus Games in Orlando last year; Mark sacrificed his gold on the track to push his fellow competitor Stephen Simmons from the USA into first place – simply because he felt Stephen deserved it more.
Sydney will soon be the custodian of the Invictus spirit and the focus for hundreds of men and women using the Invictus Games to motivate their recovery from physical and mental injuries.
I know that people across the country – from Perth to Sydney, from Darwin to Adelaide – will embrace the Invictus Games and show their support for competitors from their local towns and right across the country. I have no doubt that the Sydney public will make these games their own. I can promise that when they do, they will witness the very best of human spirit – courage, inspiration and defiance – on the track, on the court and in the pool. Competitors who give their all to cross the line first, but will then use what breath they have left to encourage others to achieve their own goals.
In these challenging times, we can all benefit from positive and inspiring stories from which to draw strength. The Invictus Games shows us that it is possible to overcome adversity, and that the impossible is possible, if you have the will. This spirit, championed by the games, extends far beyond the competition; when a bomb left a number of people with life-changing injuries in Manchester last month, wounded veterans, including Invictus team members, immediately offered themselves up to provide advice and support to the victims through their recovery process. The commitment to serve is ingrained in every member of the Armed Forces and is the embodiment of the Invictus spirit.
I know you will all agree with me that, the men and women of our Armed Forces and veteran community do not need our sympathy, in fact that is the last thing they want, but they do deserve the upmost respect and an opportunity to play a valued role in our communities. Duty and service is in their blood. The Invictus Games provides the launch pad from which they can fulfil these aspirations.
I know those of you here today and many people who see coverage of this launch will join me in creating a life-changing atmosphere for the competitors, family members and spectators alike.
The Invictus Games are coming to Australia – game on down under.