Vesa Lappalainen of Finland grew up in a little country village, spending the summers running, swimming, biking, hiking and the winters skiing.“Maybe this why I have interested in many kinds of sport,” he said in July. “I was not the best in my age category, but places second and third were my positions.”
After a time in the Army, he started to run a little bit more — and became his No. 1 sport. At 30, Vesa ran his fastest marathon, 3:27:28, and “maybe that is my best achievement in my sport.”
As a masters athlete, he’s won some relay medals.
“For me, more important has been to understand the meaning of lifelong sport,” he said. “I have understood the importance of sport and I will speak also in the future about this and of course I hope that I can also live my own life like a good masters athlete.”
Now retired in Helsinki, he says he hopes to continue learning — “like languages and new sport events.”
He says he’s worked 30 years in various sport federations, including the past 16 as managing director of Finland Masters Athletes, “and this period has been my highlight.”
“I had the best opportunity to create and develop both our national and international master sport,” he said. “These years were the most interesting and educating working years and now I am ready to give these experiments and knowledge for the work of WMA.”
MASTERSTRACK.BLOG: Why do you want to be president of WMA? Who is supporting or endorsing your candidacy?
VESA LAPPALAINEN: I feel that after these years I am ready and full of energy to be as a president of WMA. My periods as a vice president both in WMA and EMA has given so much that I know very well the work of president and how much time it will take. Finland Masters Athletics nominated me as a candidate and I feel also that all our athletes are supporting me, because they know me as a team manager from these last 16 years.
What three things do you want to accomplish in your term as president?
First is our WMA Championships. As president, I will focus my work on our competition. On my working list is the athlete is always number one. I would like to develop our championships’ better time schedule, more interested in and more cheap to participate.
Second is economy and good governance. These two things always go hand in hand. WMA needs a very tight budget so our athletes do not need to pay too expensive entry fees. Good governance also means open democracy and open meetings.
Third on my list is good and updated information. Our sport policy is so important that we need to create more news from our work and how important our sport policy is for all societies’ health policy.
How would you perform better as a president than your opponents?
I have the longest working period in a masters sport, on the national, European and world levels. I come from a little country, but from a very high level organized federation. My experiments are full of understandings of all kind of sport policy.
How are you making your case to the affiliates? What can you do for the affiliates?
As president, I will cooperate with affiliates and make better contacts with them. This is also a regional question. Better regional work will always help the affiliates, too.
What are the biggest concerns of WMA affiliates, and how can you best deliver on solutions?
Biggest concern is how to get enough volunteers. We have to focus on this and make all decisions after first hearing their opinions.
Should WMA hold world masters athletics championships in China? Should WMA return to South America or Africa for its outdoor championships? If not, why not?
I do not see any reason why not. If all circumstances and sport arenas are of a high standard, and there is and LOC whom WMA can trust, I am ready to support all candidates from China. And WMA has to remember how important our championships are for every region. This why WMA has to arrange its championships in every region under these recommendations I mentioned before.
Should WMA lobby for masters exhibition events in the Olympics and make sure masters events always occur in IAAF indoor and outdoor world championships?
At the moment, I think that WMA has to make its own sport policy and develop our work in this way. Of course, we have to keep our eyes open and be ready for cooperation and negotiations with IOC and IAAF. One good example should be our own Masters Olympic Games under IOC one year before the Olympic Games. That’s one possibility.
How serious or widespread is doping in masters athletics?
During recent years, I have seen that doping is one of our biggest problems. We have to keep our doping policy very clear and make tests not only during competitions, but also during training camps and also target tests.
What would you do to combat doping beyond what is being done now?
One good example is that WMA would negotiate with all national doping agencies and make an agreement about masters doping tests. At the same time, WMA has to make more [promotional efforts] against doping and help athletes by giving information about forbidden substances.
Should the oldest age groups — over 80 — be subject to drug-testing at WMA events?
My opinion is: YES, all age categories have to be tested. I have seen how some ideal persons are looking “to keep body like the twenties.” and these kinds of people are doing everything in their life to keep their body “like a rolling stone.” For these people, we have to keep our doping tests as a target.
Will you commit to sharing detailed audits of WMA finances? Should athletes have a right to know how WMA officers are spending and investing WMA revenues? (Financial statements have not been posted on WMA website since 2010, and they are not detailed.)
Absolutely YES. Open economy and good auditors keep WMA budgets in balance. Because WMA uses mainly our athletes entry fees, this is why the WMA budget has to be very open and clear. I am ready, as I have been working in our federation, to increase open economy and I will continue on this way, if I am elected.
How much travel do you plan to do as WMA president? Will you commit to disclosing your travel expenses — at least the costs to WMA?
My travel policy is very simply: Not to do trips without reason! Always there must be a reason why you are traveling and who is paying that trip and: Are you doing your trip as cheap as possible? Nowadays there are many possibilities to arrange meetings without traveling costs, for example Skype meetings. So you do not need to travel.
Unfortunately I have seen some persons in our sport movement who are “traveling without any reason” only to meet friends. That traveling policy I do not make!
Should John Seto’s mastersrankings.com be incorporated into the WMA website? Should WMA have its own seasonal lists as the IAAF site does?
I think that our high-level athletes are very keen to look at seasonal lists like IAAF. My hope is that WMA could fulfill this hope.
What other changes or improvements would you like to see in the WMA website?
Main thing is for an updated website. I know that it is very hard work, because that work is done by volunteers. But it is a question only of coordination. One example is that every region would have a person who sends regional news to WMA website. WMA council’s duty is to keep all information updated. That’s hard work, but I will focus on that.
How can you or your team better use social media — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other networks — to grow masters athletics worldwide?
I see that today we have so many different media and WMA can’t be involved in every kind of media. If somebody is ready to make social media, I am interested.
One media idea I have: WMA should create an e-letter/bulletin six times per year. This bulletin would be send to all contacts of affiliates and to all volunteers who would like to get it.
Some affiliates, such as India with multiple governing bodies for masters, have been headaches for WMA. How would you deal with national affiliates that don’t adhere to WMA rules or norms?
In all cases, WMA has its own constitution and own competition rules. I will follow these. And when we have problems with affiliates, then it is time for negotiations. I know sometimes it is very difficult, but I also trust in open discussions and meetings to solve problems.
Are you satisfied with the accuracy of WMA world age-group records, given that IAAF lists often show better marks than listed WMA records?
This is a very good example of how important it is that we have only one accepted WMA age-group records list. Sometimes I have seen some “difficulties.” but I am still hopeful for a better future.
WMA has moved its outdoor world meet to even-numbered years to avoid going head-to-head with World Masters Games. Has this change worked out for WMA? Or would you consider teaming with IMGA to conduct world athletics championships?
The decision to change our championships to even-numbered years was right, but it caused other problems, [involving] regional championships every four years. This is a reason why we have to continue negotiations with IMGA and also with IOC.
Are you satisfied with the current system for choosing WMA Athletes of the Year, which now have added event-group award winners? Who should have final say on the winners — the entire WMA Council or the executives? Or just the president? Should WMA award money to the top male and female?
Firstly, it is a very difficult decision — who is the best female and male athlete of the year? We have so many candidates and you never get a decision on which all are satisfied. My opinion is that there [should be] a special committee with one delegate from every region and WMA president. They would have the power to choose and decide the best female and male athlete. And an award is enough, NOT MONEY.
The Málaga meet expects 8,000 athletes. Is the meet too big? Should WMA consider qualifying standards for its indoor and outdoor athletics championships?
Eight thousand participants is not too much. With high quality of technique and result service, this can be handled, even more. My very clear opinion is also that ALL athletes can participate, not any kind of qualifying standards. Everyone has to have this excellent opportunity to participate.
My answer for this is to get a better scheduled timetable. For example for short distances [use] only heats and finals, not semifinals. Also decathlon and heptathlon can divide by age categories on different days. More participants are a possibility, not a problem!
Should the WMA athletics championships award prize money?
My answer is very clear: NO. Our sport movement is [based] on a right spirit, clear sport and free participation. To this, money is not giving any answer. It is causing problems, if we give power for it.
Should WMA revise the Age-Graded Factors? If so, how would this be accomplished? Who should be involved in this project? Should athletes have a voice?
Age-Graded Factors are very good “helpers” to show to persons who are more laughing [about] our sport and not giving any kind of support. With these factors, we can show the level of our athletes. This is why factors are very important. To [formulate] these is the work that only high educated specialists can do. Athletes do not need to have a voice in this case.
Should athletes have a voice in determining rules changes in WMA — beyond the national-affiliate delegates they send to the General Assembly?
This is a question of how our affiliates are working. My experiments are that our athletes are involved in the councils of affiliates, as in Finland. In this way, our athletes are able to [express views] on all proposals. And of course when they elect delegates to the General Assembly, they have to remember to send also athletes as delegates.
What rules changes have been proposed for the Málaga General Assembly?
I haven’t got the agenda yet of the Malaga GA, so this is why I do not know. What I can say is that last year at the EMA GA was some decisions on the competition rules. I hope that EMA and maybe other regions have sent all proposal [as] WMA’s new constitution demands.
Why should another European head WMA?
This is very easy to answer. Although I am from Finland and Europe, when I am working in WMA, I do my work for the whole world, not for one region.
My [experience] in masters sport give me such a big advantage that I can handle WMA world level work together with all regions. And we have to remember that I am not alone — the work in the WMA council is a teamwork and work for our athletes, not members’ own interests.