Subject: East Timor leader to receive honorary degree

Press Register (Mobile, Alabama)

East Timor leader to receive honorary degree

Wednesday, January 03, 2007 By GARY McELROY Staff Reporter

The leader of the 21st Century's newest nation is coming to Baldwin County in January.

His name is Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao. His country, which became a brand new democratic republic on May 20, 2002, is East Timor.

It takes up the eastern half of a large island in the Indonesian archipelago a few hundred miles north of Australia.

Thomas Rosandich, president and founder of the United States Sports Academy in Daphne, will serve as Gusmao's host. Rosandich said Tuesday that the occasion will be to bestow on his friend the academy's International Honorary Doctorate on Jan. 19.

Rosandich founded the Sports Academy more than 30 years ago. A few years later, he said, he delivered the institution to "sports friendly" Mobile, after visiting other potential U.S. sites from San Diego to Miami and a half-dozen points in between.

The academy offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, and is associated with nations around the world, Rosandich said.

So is Rosandich. Through a military career and as a coach and educator, he was an early proponent of the Peace Corps and helped get it established in Southeast Asia. Over the years, he served as an American sports ambassador for the U.S. State Department in more than 40 countries, even more as head of his sports institution.

Rosandich described Gusmao as an "unusual, very charming, very interesting man" whose 30-year political struggle was very much like that of Nelson Mandela in South Africa -- public service, imprisonment by authorities for his campaigns of freedom and independence and, ultimately, the exercise of state craft as East Timor's elected leader.

The sports academy, described as the largest free-standing institution of its kind in the world, is in the process of helping Gusmao and his nation build a sports program there, Rosandich said, in part through private foundations.

"It's the newest nation in the world and probably the poorest nation in the world," Rosandich said of East Timor, and Gusmao's visit is in part intended to help Rosandich help him "deliver the (sports) program in his country."

Tempered by his own international sports ties going back more than 50 years and his academy's position as "a nexus to the world," Rosandich said, it was in a position to give the kind of help East Timor needed.

Gusmao will be the fourth recipient of the academy's honorary doctorate, Rosandich said. It is a list that also includes the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Bahrain, and Mandela, as president of South Africa. 

The school has delivered athletic programs to more than 60 nations, Rosandich said. It is independent, academically accredited and nonprofit. It trains men and women who aspire to careers in sports, he said.

He said he got the idea for a United States sports academy during the Cold War, via his travels through various nations during athletic and Olympic competitions.

Rosandich said he was struck by certain eastern European countries' uses of, and applications to, the "science" of sports.

"They used sports science far better than we did in America," Rosandich said.

It was not long afterward, Rosandich said, that he began doing everything he could to make sure that would no longer be true. 

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