Pelé (left) plants a kiss on the bronze bust of himself

Pelé’s (left) plants a kiss on the bronze bust of himself that was sculpted by Harry Weber, the Academy’s 2011 Sport Artist of the Year, as Gabon President Ali Bongo looks on. Photo courtesy of Prince Jackson.

For nearly two years, the United States Sports Academy and the Republic of Gabon have planned to undertake a comprehensive study of the West Africa nation’s sports programs and facilities and to begin the Academy’s sport education programs there.

Those efforts were finally launched in February with the progressive nation that is seen as a promoter of peace and stability in that region of the world. President Ali Bongo, in fact, serves as the United Nation’s Security Council chairman.

A delegation of seven Gabon officials led by the minister of education Seraphin Moundounga and minister of culture, youth and sport René Ndémézo’o Obiang visited the Academy in Daphne, Ala., to formalize the agreement in September 2010. The partnership came about after Academy Vice President Dr. T.J. Rosandich had a detailed discussion about President Bongo’s vision for sports during a visit to Libreville, Gabon’s capital city, in March 2010. In addition, Joe Szlavik, the Academy’s Board of Visitors chairman, has served as the university’s liaison to Gabon and has helped keep the partnership moving forward.

Under the agreement, the Academy will assess the current state of facilities, equipment, programs and staff qualifications as well as other associated aspects of Gabon’s sport program. Representatives of the Academy will develop a master plan for the country with recommendations based on their findings. Gabon, which has a population of about 1.5 million, has participated in the Olympics since 1972 with its largest delegation being sent to the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games in 1996.

In addition, Dr. T.J. Rosandich is currently leading a legacy study on Gabon’s new 40,000-seat Friendship Stadium in Libreville. It co-hosted the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, which crowned that continent’s soccer champion, Zambia, on Feb. 12. Dr. T.J. Rosandich has done some major sport studies in Africa, including the entire sport complex in Kenya.

During the Academy’s 40-year history as a university focused on sports education, the Academy has delivered education programs and services, such as the ones to Gabon, in 65 countries across the globe from Latin America to the Middle East and the Caribbean to Southeast Asia.

In addition, the Academy was pleased to work with Gabon on three major art projects for its new Libreville soccer stadium. It commissioned three of the Academy’s Sports Artists of the Year to provide works of art honoring Pelé, the black pearl of Brazil and one of the world’s greatest soccer players ever. These works were nothing short of magnificent.

President Bongo unveiled the works on Feb. 9 during a ceremony dedicating the new stadium along with Pelé, who attended the final week of the Africa Cup. Dr. T.J. Rosandich emceed the event and played a major role in staging the event, which was carried in the media throughout the world.

The artworks for the major soccer tournament included:

  • A bronze bust depicting a smiling Pelé sculpted by Harry Weber, the Academy’s 2011 Sport Artist of the Year from St. Louis.
  • A multi-dimensional acrylic sculpture that features Pelé executing his famous bicycle kick created by Sergey Eylanbekov, the 2004 Sport Artist of the Year from New York City.
  • A painting depicting Pelé dribbling the soccer ball down field done by Stephen Holland, the 1993 Sport Artist of the Year from Hollywood, Calif. This piece is signed by Pelé and will be displayed in the Pelé Room at the VIP entrance to the new stadium.

Pelé was described as so honored and pleased with the art that he picked up Eylanbekov, who was also at the Gabon ceremony, and swung him around in his arms. Pelé recalled receiving a Distinguished Service Award as part of the Academy’s Awards of Sport in 1988.