Invictus Games Toronto CEO Michael Burns’ vision for the Sept. 23-30 event is to be create more than just celebrations of sporting achievements.
“These games are going to be something that has never been seen or done in Canada,” says Burns.
Having a well-known leader helps the Invictus Games, formed in 2014 by Prince Harry. But as the previous two Invictus Games have grown in terms of participating athletes and countries, Toronto aims to exceed impressive showings in London and Kissimmee, Florida.
As one of the founders of the True Patriot Love Foundation, Burns saw the need for more support for military families. With the goal of raising $1 million for the Military Families Fund in 2009, collective hard work paid off when the first True Patriot Love dinner that doubled the goal, putting $2 million into the coffers of the foundation.
“We knew we had made a lifetime commitment to support military families,” explains Burns, who realized the dinner would not be just a one-off idea.
The foundation then connected with support groups including the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services, Highway of Heroes and Bell Let’s Talk to raise awareness of mental illness among Canadians.
When the opportunity arose to bid on the Invictus Games in 2013, Burns and company immediately got the ball rolling. True Patriot Love Foundation knew it could provide administrative and financial support while partnering with Toronto, which was preparing at the time to host the 2015 Pan Am Games.
A Big Promise in Toronto
The two challenges organizers face have been to create a bigger experience than in the past and avoid scope creep, a marketing term referring to successful projects becoming influenced from interested outside groups.
Canadian good-will ambassadors Rick Hansen (a philanthropist) and Mike Myers (of “Wayne’s World” fame) are on-board to participate, and Bruce Springsteen will be part of the closing ceremonies. It’s fair to say the bandwagon to get on board with Invictus Games Toronto is getting bigger.
Invictus Games Toronto will host 550 competitors from 17 countries, the most to date, and lure an estimated 10,000 visitors. The Sheraton Centre Hotel, centrally located across the street from Nathan Phillips Square, home to Toronto City Hall, will be home for the competitors.
The square will feature concerts, wheelchair tennis and a celebrity hockey game, with 12 adaptive sports held at well-known venues such as Fort York Historic Site, Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre and the Air Canada Centre.
The competitions are the focus, but Invictus Games 2017 is taking a holistic view, including being a part of We Day in Toronto to educate youth and providing many opportunities for participants during the games. These include the Multi-Faith Celebration, a cultural program featuring music, art and theaters; Veterans Career Summit highlighting employment opportunities and a Health Summit, showcasing the latest in therapies and technology for wounded veterans.
As a national flag tour leads to the opening of the games on Sept. 23, Burns explains that an international study on the impact of the Invictus Games will be released during the games. “We wanted to develop much more than a sport program and continue the legacy of support for Canadian military families.”
And with a team of 50 and a volunteer team of 1800, “these games will be a culmination of two years of hard work and passion, because we didn’t just promise Toronto, we promised Canada and all that we are to support Invictus,” says Burns.