Interview with Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld – Schouten


With 75 days to go until the start of the Invictus Games in The Hague, we talked to the Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld – Schouten. A conversation about the importance of the Games, sports within the Armed Forces and the role of Defence in the run-up to and during the Invictus Games.

There are only 75 days to go till the Invictus Games, how much is the minister looking forward to this.

I am very much looking forward to this. 500 participants who are giving their 100% for a whole week! And in the Netherlands. I am really proud that we are able to and capable of organizing it here. The participants set new goals, restore and strengthen their self-esteem and self-confidence. The sportsmen and women become active in different sports with (former) soldiers with similar stories. From all over the world. Every athlete has experienced something, often in the same mission areas, as a result of which they now suffer from physical or mental injuries. Sharing those stories is also part of the reintegration process. Sports supports their reintegration.

So, the Games are about more than just winning sports or competitions. It is about the power of the human mind. About acceptance. About the will to continue. It is about respect, appreciation, and rising above physical and mental injuries. And I cannot wait to go to the Zuiderpark to cheer on the athletes to support them in this.

What is the purpose of the event?

It usually goes well, but unfortunately not every soldier returns unharmed from their mission. It is important for us as a society to be aware of this. I find Prince Harry’s initiative really amazing in that respect. The event puts this topic in the spotlight every year. Winning a medal is not what it is all about. It is about respect, appreciation, rising above physical and mental injuries and helping and inspiring others. Despite the major setbacks that the participants had to endure, they found the strength, drive and motivation to continue with their lives. I believe that that makes them an inspiration for us all. Whether you have experienced something unfortunate or not.

2020 is the year that the Netherlands celebrates 75 years of freedom, with numerous activities. How important is this?

In the Netherlands this year we are celebrating that it’s been 75 years since we’ve been liberated, the Games fits well with this. In this manner, we can encourage and thank “our” soldiers for their efforts. We don’t realize enough times that we live the way we live here because young people from all over the world had the courage to fight for us. And that is also what we do in other places around the world, and if necessary, in our own country. It is a beautiful moment to recognize that these men and women are heroes who paid a high price for peace and security. During the Invictus Games we can show our appreciation and gratitude to them.

The Invictus Games is internationally renowned, but until now were primarily a British-American occurrence. Today, more and more countries are embracing the Invictus Games. How important it is that countries such as the US, Afghanistan, South Korea, Georgia, Poland etc. find themselves on the sports field.

The participating countries have previously supported each other or cooperated in the fight for freedom and security. That creates a bond. They know what the other person has been through. During the sports competitions the soldiers fight against each other in a sports sense, but especially with each other in order to get the best out of themselves and the other. Together. Each participant has personal goals during the Invictus Games. Every performance stands on its own, just like every illness or injury. Each participant has their own story, challenges and overcomes it in their own way, and it is great that this is possible in an international context.

Wounded soldiers deserve a lot of attention, can the Netherlands always provide that? Can you give examples of what the Netherlands does for its veterans, whether they are injured or not?

Veterans deserve recognition and respect. We show that we believe this every year in June on the Dutch Veterans Day, with a large procession that is led by the King. There are also more and more regional veterans’ days and commemorations. I often attend them. But a lot also happens on an individual level. For example, the Ministry of Defence offers assistance with the processing of physical or mental complaints. Veterans can also get the veterans pass. The Veterans Institute in Doorn focuses specifically on giving recognition and appreciation to veterans and directly service veterans and their family and friends. This institute also serves as an access point to the healthcare sector, also houses the Veterans Desk and has a knowledge and research centre.

The IG use sports as a way to recovery, what is the role of sports for the Armed forces?

Servicemen and women and sports are related. Servicemen and women have to be fit to perform under intense circumstances. For example, you have to be able to do your job with a heavy backpack in high temperatures. Besides, sports challenge, fraternize, increase respect and appreciation and togetherness. In fact, sports are so important, you are even allowed to work out during working hours.

The Invictus Games mainly focus on family & friends of participants. What’s your vision on this?

Family and friends are an inseparable and essential part of the Invictus-philosophy. Support from family and friends is essential for servicemen and women and is of great importance within the rehabilitation process. By experiencing the Invictus Games together, both the injured soldier and their family and friends can take the next steps towards the future.

What do you do to raise awareness for the Invictus Games amongst servicemen and women? Are you encouraging them to buy tickets in order to support colleagues?

Of course! Wherever I can, I bring it up. The Armed forces is active via different (social) media channels. Soon, a special Armed forces journal about the Invictus Games will be released. Many staff members are in the organization, all defense services are present. It would be great if many non-militaries show up as well! Students from the whole of The Netherlands are invited to visit IG, sports days are organized by us and we are contributing to two documentaries about the IG. Moreover, portraits of the IG-participants will be published in different media outlets and soon an online campaign will start in which we raise awareness for the IG with the hashtag #IAMBEHINDHTEDUTCHTEAM. The message of Invictus is important for our people, but also for everyone else.

Throughout the Invictus Games, on the initiative of Armed forces, a spectacular military lifeline experience is present. The Armed forces is doing roadshows more often, there are open days. What’s the goal of this lifeline experience? What are the outcomes?

The IG are about veterans, so it’s good to show what this entails. With the military lifeline experience, we want the visitors of the IG to get to know the Armed forces and all aspects of the military profession that have an influence on the servicemen and women and shape the servicemen and women, in an interactive way. We want to inform the visitors about the responsibility that the Armed forces has as an employer concerning the fate of the physical or mental state of the injured servicemen and women that take part in the Games.

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