Subject: East Timor president honored at USSA

Press-Register (Mobile, AL)

East Timor president honored at USSA

Saturday, January 20, 2007 By DAVID FERRARA Staff Reporter

DAPHNE -- After receiving an honorary degree from the United States Sports Academy here, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao, the president of East Timor -- the world's youngest nation -- said that sports can help his country to mature and prosper.

"What does sport have to do with reconciliation?" he asked the crowd of about 50 people. "It has everything to do with the reconciliation, peace and building a system of unity."

For decades, Gusmao said, the Timorese were besieged by violence, and athletics vanished.

Gusmao said he believes that by establishing athletics -- soccer seemed to be at the forefront of his mind -- citizens can begin to build their country democratically.

The median age in 1.06-million population East Timor is around 20, according to the CIA World Factbook Web site. In a developing nation like his, with a large number of young people, there is a need for children to learn the "togetherness" of sports, Gusmao said.

That's where the Sports Academy comes into play.

Thomas Rosandich, president and founder of the U.S. Sports Academy, vowed to help East Timor develop sports facilities. "I personally will find a way to help them in the thing that I know, and that is sport," Rosandich said.

On the eastern half of an island in the Indonesian archipelago a few hundred miles north of Australia, East Timor became a nation, also known as the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, on May 20, 2002.

Gusmao, a former guerrilla leader who spent a decade in prison, was installed as the first president.

A former member of the Peace Corps who once lived in Indonesia, Rosandich bestowed the doctoral degree upon Gusmao and compared him to South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela and Indian peace organizer Mahatma Gandhi.

"Our ties are long and old and good and strong, and they will even get stronger in the future," Rosandich said. "You're a special person, and we're honored to have you here."

He promised he would meet with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., next month to negotiate a bill and "make this a reality."

After Gusmao received the degree, he received some local gifts, too. Daphne Mayor Fred Small presented Gusmao with a key to the city, and local artist Bruce Larsen handed him a bird sculpture made from found objects, including a piece of wood from Mobile Bay and "some sort of lever from a tractor," Larsen said.

Another Larsen sculpture, "The Sprinter," stands outside the Sports Academy along U.S. 98.

Gusmao then presented Rosandich, Small, Larsen and Sports Academy representatives with gifts from his country, including colorfully woven scarves.

These days, the one sport that many people in East Timor learn is martial arts, Gusmao said in a brief interview with the Press-Register after the ceremony. But they use their knowledge in that field for violence.

Even soccer in the young nation can become violent at times. But Gusmao said he believes sports, with the proper training, can teach fairness and "it will strengthen the national unity and strengthen the social harmony."

"To change mentalities, it takes time," he added. But sports "can help build mutual understanding, build tolerance."

Gusmao even joked that he might try to ask David Beckham, the British soccer player who recently signed a five-year, $250 million contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy, for a little bit of cash to build sports facilities in East Timor.

"We can build Beckham Sports Complex," he said, extending his hands out as if spreading them across a marquee. "I believe he would like it. Of course he would like it."

Back to January menu

December 2006 menu  
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu