Host nations of international sporting competitions often draw on national symbols as inspiration for the mascots they design as event ambassadors. In March 2016 Gabon unveiled its 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (ACN) mascot: a black panther called Samba.
Described by organisers as a symbol of power and grace, the mascot will be seen sporting the Gabon national team’s colours of blue and yellow when it marches out at Stade de l’Amitié in Libreville for the first game of the 31st ACN. Having co-hosted the event in 2012 with Equatorial Guinea, Gabon won a second round of bidding for the 2017 ACN after it became apparent that Libya, which was expected to host the tournament, would be unable to do so due to ongoing conflict in the country.
Some of the benefits of welcoming legions of fans for international sporting events include revenues from ticketing, sponsorships and the sale of television broadcast rights. Harder to estimate is the potential boost to sectors such as construction, tourism and trade. The direct costs are perhaps easier to quantify, and in this regard the High Commission charged with organising the 2017 tournament budgeted CFA89bn (€133.5m) to fund necessary upgrades to infrastructure and hotels.
In 2012 Gabon invested CFA400bn (€600m) in the construction of new roads and three new stadia in preparation for that year’s competition. One of these stadiums was the 46,000-capacity Stade Omnisports Omar Bongo; however, construction, which started in 2010, was not complete in time for the 2012 ACN. The stadium was also earmarked for the upcoming tournament, but slow work on its development means that the 40,000-seater Stade de l’Amitié will be the competition’s largest venue.
The existing Stade de Franceville has capacity for 22,000 supporters, and two new stadia – the Stade de Port-Gentil and the Stade d’Oyem – will be able to hold around 20,000 spectators each, bringing the total number of stadia to four. At the time of publication, work was still ongoing at the latter two developments, though final delivery of both is expected by the end of 2016.
Hosting ACN is not just seen as a boon to the economy, and as highlighted by President Ali Bongo Ondimba at Samba’s unveiling, “Football, like no other sport, creates a sense of unity, equality and inclusion.” Indeed, as the most popular sport worldwide, the game can transcend social and cultural divisions. Furthermore, in its ability to develop global partnerships, the sport, when approached in the right spirit, can help facilitate the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals.
For some individuals, becoming a professional footballer is seen as a way of escaping poverty. Côte d’Ivoire’s Didier Drogba, Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o and Ghana’s Michael Essien are just a few examples of modern African talents with humble beginnings. The rise of these players to the pinnacle of the sport has and will continue to inspire younger generations, while the charitable work their careers have allowed them to engage in is of great benefit to the communities that nurtured them in their early years.
The youth of Gabon now have their own top-class talent to support in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was named African Footballer of the Year in January 2016. The first Gabonese player to receive the accolade, Aubameyang has impressed as a prolific striker for German club Borussia Dortmund. With Gabon ranked 34th in Africa and 110th in the world, supporters will be hoping Aubameyang can lead their current crop of players to a better result than in the last tournament, when they were eliminated in the first round. With the squad set to play the competition’s opening game against tournament debutants Guinea-Bissau on January 14, 2017, The Panthers will have to sharpen their claws to reach the final in Libreville’s Stade de l’Amitié on February 5.
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