ORLANDO/CENTRAL FLORIDA The Invictus Games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World wrap up tonight with a splashy closing ceremony that will include performances from Flo Rida, Rascal Flatts, Rachel Platten, and more. The five-day event, created by Britain’s Prince Harry and hosted for the first time in 2014 in London, is an international athletic competition for injured and sick armed services personnel from 14 countries around the world. And while the 500 men and women competing are the focus of the games, organizers say they are equally committed to ensuring the experience is a positive one for the more than 1,000 friends and family members who are here to cheer on their loved ones.
“We’re dealing with physical ability, but we’re also dealing with people that are still in the process of recovery, and we’re celebrating those that are recovering with them—their families, friends, and caregivers that are surrounding them,” said Keith Davenport, vice president of the Invictus Games Orlando 2016 organizing committee. As part of that strategy, organizers have housed family and friends in different Disney hotels than the athletes. “They see their loved ones at the competition, but when they go back to relax at their hotels we want this to be a vacation for them. It’s something they really aren’t used to getting. So this is an opportunity to take a big exhale and know that we are taking care of their loved ones and competitors in a remarkable way.”
Organizers say that desire to create an enjoyable experience for the friends and family was a primary factor in the selection of Orlando as the site of the games. “It’s probably every kids’ and families’ dream to go to Disney, but it can be quite unaffordable. So we’ve actually got the sports competition running in tandem in a fantastic location. And having everything on their doorstep and not having to use cars—they can literally walk from swimming to track and field to volleyball and the crowd goes with them—it’s a great setup,” said Vicky Gosling, co-C.E.O. of the 2016 Invictus Games. Thanks to presenting sponsor Jaguar Land Rover, as well as Disney, Coca-Cola, the Fisher House Foundation, and many more, all expenses except travel to and from Orlando are covered for both competitors and their friends and family, who also received four-day Disney passes. And in addition to an “athletes’ village” at Disney’s Shades of Green resort, organizers have also created a similar base for friends and family at the Coronado Springs hotel, with a lounge and the hub for dining and transportation services.
While the event has been designed on the model of large-scale athletic competitions such as the Olympics and Pan-American games, organizers had just months, not years, to produce these games. The Invictus Games Foundation announced it had awarded the games to Orlando in October 2015. Davenport said they started with a team of about 10 staff members and now have about 1,000 people on site as paid staff, volunteers, and sponsor representatives. “It was only possible because we were able to blend a functional planning model of what the Olympics organization would build directly into the Disney operational machine,” he said. “ESPN Wide World of Sports operates every single day so for them, this is not necessarily out of the norm. But we had to blend their regular park operations with a model we know works with large-scale competitions of a global nature.”
The next Invictus Games will be in September 2017 in Toronto.