Prince Harry’s next Invictus Games in Canada – a country loved by him and Meghan Markle – is in ‘turmoil’ after two senior executives were ‘dismissed for no apparent reason’ with just over a year to go, a whistleblower told MailOnline today.
The Invictus Games will be held in Vancouver and Whistler in February 2025 and will feature winter sports for the first time.
But MailOnline can exclusively reveal that CEO Peter Lawless, a lawyer and arguably Canada’s most respected Olympic and Paralympic administrator, has left his job abruptly.
An insider has claimed that Mr Lawless, who was awarded the Diamond Jubilee Medal by Harry’s grandmother the Queen in 2012, was fired and morale amongst staff is now ‘at an all time low’. An Invictus Games spokesman declined to comment on whether he was sacked, instead saying he had been ‘transitioned out’ and was ‘no longer an employee’ but will remain an ambassador.
Also leaving the Vancouver-Whistler team is Bill Cooper, who was in the role of Chief Commercial Officer for ten months until he left in October. He has thanked colleagues for their support after several praised his ‘grace’ and accused Invictus 2025 of making a big mistake by getting rid of him.
One Games volunteer said that staff are ‘concerned that these recent moves will again overshadow this incredible event for our veterans’. They also raised concerns that the Sussexes’ security and other costs may put a strain on Games finances if Invictus 2025 has to pick up the bill.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, at the Invictus Games in Germany. The next one is in Canada, but it has been rocked by the departure of senior staff
CEO Peter Lawless (pictured with Justin Trudeau) has left abruptly. Insiders claim he was sacked. Invictus says he was ‘transitioned out’ and will be an ambassador
In Dusseldorf in September, Meghan Markle turned on the charm as she joined Prince Harry at a reception thrown by the Canadian delegation to promote the 2025 Invictus Games that will feature winter sports for the first time
Prince Harry and Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell listen to Peter Lawless speak on stage during The Duke Edinburgh’s International Gold Award Winners Ceremony on Day 2 of the Invictus Games, 2017
He said that the 2025 Games is facing financial concerns, a claim denied by an Invictus spokesman, despite the Governments of Canada and British Columbia having pledged to spend almost £20m ($30million) to stage the games.
The whistleblower said: ‘CEO Peter Lawless and Chief Commercial Officer Bill Cooper were dismissed for no apparent reason.
Also leaving the Vancouver-Whistler team is Bill Cooper, who was in the role of Chief Commercial Officer for ten months until he left in October
‘This is a significant setback with just over a year to deliver the Games, which I’m told are well over budget and no plan to close the gap even after securing $30million in government support from the Province of British Columbia and the Canadian Federal government’.
The volunteer claims that the departure of CEO and the Chief Commercial Officer has caused disquiet internally.
He said: ‘As you can expect, the morale among the staff and volunteers is at an all-time low, and Prince Harry and his wife have become a significant distraction with all their troubles.
‘As volunteers, we are concerned that these recent moves will again overshadow this incredible event for our veterans. Enough already’.
MailOnline approached the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to comment on the departures and whether they were involved in the decision to terminate the employment of Lawless and Cooper.
The Governments of Canada and British Columbia have pledged to spend almost £20m to stage the games in February 2025
The Duchess of Sussex, 42, chatted with members of the committee that will be organising the games to be held in Vancouver – a city they know well having fled there in 2019 after quitting royal life
Their spokesman was also asked if Harry and Meghan cover their own travel, accommodation and security costs during Invictus, the last one being held in Dusseldorf, Germany, in September.
Peter Lawless, who is a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, will be an ambassador for the 2025 Games but is no longer employed there.
Prince Harry’s deep rift with his family cast a shadow over the Invictus Games, veterans ‘caught up in the royal crossfire’ claimed this year.
The Duke of Sussex’s time with the Army in Afghanistan inspired him to launch the sporting event in 2014 but the Prince and Princess of Wales were central to its initial success.
Nine years ago Harry, his father and brother stood united as they attended the opening ceremony and multiple events at the games in London – but the new King and his heir have had zero involvement since Harry met Meghan.
The Prince and Princess of Wales were both the Rugby World Cup in France when Invictus took place in Germany, Charles and Queen Camilla and other senior royals were at the Highland Games.
MailOnline has asked Peter Lawless to comment on his departure. Bill Cooper has confirmed his departure on LinkedIn.
Mr Cooper announced his departure on LinkedIn, politely calling it a ‘re-shuffle’
Mr Cooper’s colleagues and friends on LinkedIn were left baffled by the decision
Colleagues and friends expressed their shock and questioned the decision, with Mr Cooper thanking them for their support.
One said: ‘Shocked hearing this news Bill. The team will be well set up having had your leadership to date. You share this news with such grace’.
Another wrote: ‘What an absolute pity and a huge loss. From where I sit very difficult to see any logic behind this decision’.
A third said: ‘Sorry to hear this, Bill. You bring your trademark passion, energy and experience to everything you do and there’s no doubt that’s been invaluable to IG 2025. Hard to understand the rationale for this decision but that’s rear view mirror now … there are more great things ahead for you …there always are for those who excel’.
Mr Cooper replied: ‘Thank you for the note of support’.
It came just two months after Harry and Meghan turned on the charm at a reception thrown by the Canadian delegation to promote the 2025 Invictus Games.
The Duchess of Sussex, 42, chatted with members of the committee that will be organising the games to be held in Vancouver – a city they know well having fled there in 2019 after quitting royal life.
Meghan has close friends in the city and holds great affection for Canada having lived in Toronto while she was filming the series ‘Suits’.
The couple are very familiar with Vancouver having temporarily moved there in 2019 when they split from the royal family.
They stayed on Vancouver Island at a home on at a £14m home in North Saanich, British Columbia, following their decision to step back from being working members of the royal family.
The split was terms as Megxit and the couple stayed in Canada several months before relocating to Montecito in California. Meghan chatted with many of the competitors who have taken part in the events in Dusseldorf.
And for the first-time adaptive winter sports including alpine skiing, Nordic skiing and curling will be included in the programme of weeklong events and staged in the resort of Whistler.
It is not yet clear if Invictus 2025 is looking for a new CEO and Chief Commercial Officer.
A spokesman said: ‘We can confirm that Peter Lawless and Bill Cooper are no longer employees of Invictus Games Vancouver Whistler 2025.
‘We would like to thank them for their efforts and support in helping bring the Games back to Canada for the first winter hybrid edition of the Invictus Games and in establishing the organizing structure over the past year’.
‘We are delighted that Peter will continue to support the Vancouver Whistler 2025 Games as an Ambassador and CEO Emeritus’.
The spokesman added: ‘There are no budgetary issues relating to Invictus Games Vancouver Whistler 2025 and the organisation is on track to meet its revenue, sponsorship and fundraising targets’.