Monday, October 22, 2012

ABP 2012 Starts Today, Denies Access For Spectators

Binus International JWC Campus - Venue for Asian BP 2012
The 2012 Asian British Parliamentary Debating Championship, Jakarta's first major international debate tournament, today welcomes debaters, judges and observers, who have paid registration fees, but bans anyone else to enter the venues. That means coaches, supporters, friends and family of the debating teams cannot cheer their favourites if they have not paid the $350 fee to be an official observer. That also means Indonesian highschool students, non-participating varsity debaters, debating aficionados and members of the media cannot watch, examine and learn from the best debaters in the continent.

This is the first time a debate tournament in Indonesia builds a fence so high that others are unable to see. Restrictions sometimes are imposed on the finals of major tournaments if the venue is a fancy hotel or a luxurious hall. However, they usually give out invitations to limited audience beforehand or sell tickets for the penultimate debates. Even in these cases, preliminary debates are open to public viewing. In all cases, tournaments like to invite the media so that the positive endeavour can impact others beyond reach. For the sake of education and public service, top tournaments like the World Schools Debating Championships and World Universities Debating Championships often invite under-privileged members of the society, including students from less affluent institutions to watch the matches. If the policy does not change, such individuals are unwelcome at ABP 2012.

Preliminary debates will start on Wednesday at the campus of Binus International, a modern but small building in a fashionable shopping district. For security and capacity reasons, Binus International has permanent screening procedures for all outsiders just like a few other private universities in Indonesia and some exclusive premises in the area. This is one reason behind the ABP restrictions. Ideas like one-day or half-day passes for a limited number of visitors or affordable tickets to watch debates or tight front door screening can answer the concerns but such options are unavailable so far. The other argument is public access has been seen as a disservice to those who have paid the price tag. It is either you are in or out. No middle ground although most debate watchers have no intention to stay at the designated hotel, eat the served meals or attend the scheduled parties, which constitute the bulk of the fee. Most of them just want to support mates, study different styles of debating, listen to the speeches or spread the good word of the competition.

Such restrictions undermine the spirit behind competitive debating in Indonesia. The activity started as part of a national fight for reforms spearheaded by university students in 1997. From an exercise of freedom that was banned by the Soeharto government and rigid school bureaucrats then, competitive debating has spread to all corners of the country, becoming a tool for democratisation and empowerment. A few months after the dictator fell in May 1998, the first nationwide competition took place and gathered students from all backgrounds who debated on issues that are important for the country's transition from authoritarianism. Post-Soeharto governments have embraced the activity, which is also been used to teach about tolerance in previously resistant religious schools.

For Indonesia, competitive debating cannot and should not be separated from the nation's growth. That is why it is a pity that ABP 2012 chooses to build a silo and become an exclusive affair rather than to rise as a milestone for debate proliferation and showcase how this activity is much more than a sport for Indonesians.

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