President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, on Friday, unveiled the 2017 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) Mascot, a Black Panther named, Samba.
Also at the unveiling ceremony were FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, and CAF President, Issa Hayatou during a friendly match between Gabon and Sierra Leone.
The Black Panther is a national symbol of Gabon and demonstrates the Central African nation’s long term commitment to environmental protection, which includes creating a sanctuary for some of the world’s most fragile species.
The Mascot is sporting the blue and yellow colours of Gabon and its name, Samba, means hello and welcome in local Bantu language.
The ceremony, held in Franceville, Gabon, was attended by Infantino, Hayatou and Gabon’s Football Federation officials.
Addressing an ecstatic crowd moments after the unveiling, President Ondimba said: “I am thrilled today to see the Black Panthers play in this packed stadium where Gabonese from all walks of life are gathered to share their common passion for the game.
“Football, like no other sport, creates a sense of unity, equality and inclusion. All of these are at the heart of my vision for a changing Gabon.
“It is a pleasure to welcome the new President of FIFA, on his first trip to Africa, to see for himself the great welcome our country will give all participants and visitors to next year’s tournament.”
Infantino arrived Franceville on Friday on the last leg of a three-day Africa trip that took him to South Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
Gabon will be hosting the continental tournament for the second time, having previously co-organised it with Equatorial Guinea in 2012.
The Central African country is currently constructing two stadiums in Port-Gentil and the northern town of Oyem for January’s tournament, with the capacity of 20,000 and 20,500 respectively.
The country will use four venues for the 16-team tournament, which will take place from January 14 to February 5, 2017. The venues will be in Libreville, Franceville, Port Gentil and Oyem.