The Invictus Games Sydney 2018 presented by Jaguar Land Rover has come to a spectacular end with a sell out Closing Ceremony at Qudos Bank Arena officially bringing the fourth edition of the Games to a close.
Featuring ARIA award-winning band Birds of Tokyo, Grammy-nominated singer Aloe Blacc, Colin Hay and The Kingdom Choir, the Closing Ceremony capped off a week that saw more than 100,000 people flock to Sydney Olympic Park and Sydney Harbour to watch 500 competitors from 18 nations contest medals in 11 sports.
After eight days of remarkable competition that showcased the strength and resilience of the human spirit, the focus of the Games will now turn to its ongoing legacy for employment, education, sporting and rehabilitation opportunities for Australian veterans.
“The Invictus Games Sydney 2018 has been an excellent opportunity to shine a light on the healing power of sport and encourage the wider Australian community to embrace our defence community,” said Invictus Games Sydney 2018 Chief Executive Officer Patrick Kidd OBE.
“This week we’ve seen the very best of the human spirit on and off the sporting field. I hope that every Australian can take away something positive from these Games and have a greater understanding of the sacrifice of service and the importance of looking after our wounded, injured and ill service personnel, veterans and their families and friends,” he said.
The Invictus Games Sydney 2018 offered countless moments of sportsmanship, strength and camaraderie that embodied the fighting spirit of the wounded, injured and ill service personnel and veterans.
From Dutch competitor Edwin Vermetten comforting UK competitor Paul Guest on the wheelchair tennis court, to Australian competitor Davin Bretherton’s sportsmanship on the wheelchair rugby court, the Games weren’t short on emotion.
Guest’s post traumatic stress was triggered by a helicopter flying overhead, before Dutch team mate Vermetten calmed the former Royal Navy mine specialist by singing ‘Let it Go’ from the movie Frozen, while Bretherton put cross-Tasman rivalry aside in the wheelchair rugby to give New Zealand’s George Nepata the chance to score his first goal after playing the entire game.
Olympic champion and Invictus Games Sydney 2018 Ambassador Anna Meares said the competitors have embodied the Invictus ‘unconquered’ spirit.
“This week I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with the competitors and being part of a truly joyful experience where our best qualities as humans have been on display,” said Meares, who overcame her own significant injury with a broken neck to win Olympic medals.
“Many people have said to me ‘you’re brave, courageous, resilient out of this experience, where did you find the motivation from?’ and to be honest, I didn’t know I was capable of that until I went through that experience. I learnt what my capabilities were, what my strengths and weaknesses were and that’s why I think my best results came after my accident. We are stronger than we realise and that has been on display for all to see this week,” she said.
The Invictus Games Family
More than 1,000 family and friends from 18 nations and more than 100,000 supporters cheered on competitors over the eight days of competition, with HRH The Duke of Sussex crediting the Invictus Games family with turning the Games “into a symbol of strength, honour and optimism for a new generation.”
Among them were two 99-year old United States World War II veterans, Steven Melnikoff and Michael Gantich, who travelled from the United States to support their fellow countrymen and educate young people about the war; and Team UK support Kath Ryan. Dubbed the ‘cake lady’, Ms Ryan baked cakes for Team UK every morning and has become a staple of the team.
Triple M breakfast host, Gotcha4Life founder and Invictus Games Sydney 2018 Ambassador Gus Worland believes the Games have shone a light on the importance of support, particularly when it comes to mental health.
“These Games belong just as much to the family and friends of all the competitors, as they do to the service personnel and veterans. Their families and friends have been there every step of the way through the highs and lows of a physical or psychological injury and it just goes to show that you don’t achieve great things on your own, you achieve great things with support,” he said.
“I hope these Games shine a brighter light on mental health and what people can achieve and overcome when they’re supported. That’s the one message I hope spectators and people who have watched at home will take away from the Invictus Games Sydney 2018.”
The Invictus Games Sydney 2018 Long-term Impact
More than just sport, the organising committee have worked to ensure the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 leave a lasting impact on the Australian community. Several social impact programs including an adaptive sport program for veterans, education awareness programs for schools and education access programs for veterans, and veteran employment access will now begin through the Invictus Games Sydney 2018’s partner organisations.
The Games have also acted as a catalyst for additional funding for ex-service organisation Soldier On’s Concord Repatriation General Hospital and the Kookaburra Kids program, both of which will drive long-term impact for the defence community.
The Returned and Services League (RSL), Australia’s longest-established national veterans’ charity, has established Veteran Sport Australia, a national program to connect veterans with their local sports and activities.
In the short term, the program will help veterans access local sporting organisations and competitions, training and development and pathways to events like the Paralympic Games, Invictus Games and Warrior Games and scope out establishing national sporting competitions for veterans.
Long term, the program aims to work with national sport organisations to ensure wounded, injured and ill veterans can access more sports, as well as establish wellbeing activities for all veterans such as yoga and art.
“This program is about helping ensure more Australians, and specifically those Australians who have served our country, are benefitting from the power that sport has to assist rehabilitation,” said Chair of Invictus Games Sydney 2018 and retired Army Lieutenant General, Peter Leahy AC.
“It will also help raise the profile of initiatives supporting those living with a disability or managing their mental health,” he said.
The Education Project
The Invictus Games Sydney 2018 Education Project was launched in August to provide high quality curriculum materials and participation experiences to more than 6,000 New South Wales school students.
A joint initiative of the Department of Education and the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Project offered students from 185 primary schools, central schools, secondary schools and schools for specific purposes to attend the Games, as well as curriculum resources designed to engage students with Invictus Games Sydney 2018.
“We want to give young people an understanding of the sacrifice of service, the challenges of living with visible and invisible injuries, the value of resilience and the healing power of sport to assist recovery and rehabilitation,” said Lt Gen Leahy.
In addition to the Education Project, Premier Partner of the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 UNSW Canberra announced a scholarship solely for veterans.
Through education, the UNSW Veterans Scholarship will support former and current Australian Defence Force personnel wanting to transition out of the military into a new career. The scholarship applies to both graduate and post-graduate courses and can be taken at any UNSW campus, or online.
The proud partners, sponsors and supporters of the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 have committed to offering more employment opportunities to Australian service personnel and veterans, designed to ease the transition into civilian life.
Invictus Games Sydney 2018 Presenting Partner, Jaguar Land Rover has recruited over 700 ex-servicemen and women since 2013, creating opportunities for employment globally.
“Transitioning back into civilian life can be difficult for many veterans. Through our fantastic corporate partners, we want to help our veterans through that process and help them to apply their skills after service,” said Lt Gen Leahy.
The fifth Invictus Games will be held in May 2020 at The Hague, The Netherlands.
Photos: © Invictus Games Sydney 2018/Getty Images Closing Ceremony