Tuesday, December 31, 2013

WUDC 2014: Chennai Worlds Will Be Remembered for Its Drama

It won't be Worlds without drama but Chennai tops it. The 2014 World Universities Debating Championships in the Indian city has experienced a gamut of problems, ranging from chronic delays, bed shortages, a bus breakdown, poor internet connection, live stream glitches, unsatisfying meals and lack of official online match ups. All of those problems could happen in any tournament of this size. However, there have been two other issues that are disturbingly serious - the police questioning of Pakistani debaters and the threat of judges boycotting the competition.

While details are sketchy about the first matter, debaters from Pakistan - India's real world nemesis - had to face the authorities who wanted to know them and their visas better. The encounter raised the possibility of replacing them with swings in the middle of the second day for preliminary debates. That worst scenario was averted but the whole incident affected scheduling. It was nice to know debaters around the world showed their support for the Pakistanis when they were allowed to return to the scene.

The second problem is more divisive. Independent judges, many from traditional debating powerhouses, threatened to strike after reports of organisers wanting to renege on promises. Some were promised they could get subsidies in advance for the willingness to fly to India while others thought they would get the travel incentives at the start of the tournament. When they heard news that none of their cost would be reimbursed, these adjudicators united and demanded accountability. Day 3 of preliminaries got delayed before an agreement was reached. After missing a deadline, organizers said subsidies would be paid in the afternoon. Unofficial reports are saying the Rajalakshmi Engineering College, which is hosting WUDC Chennai, understood allowing a boycott to happen would be shameful.

There is a positive side from WUDC Chennai. The first seven motions satisfied the quench for straightforward, fair and relevant debates for global citizens. Many were unimpressed with some of the motions in WUDC Manila and Berlin, especially with the long, convoluted ones. There were abundant complaining tweets right after they were announced although it has to be said that the short and clean motion for WUDC Manila's grand final won applause. There has been close to zero poking at WUDC Chennai motions and the 'hook-up culture' motion right before socials was apt. For Indonesians, the motions on payment to victims of crimes, political dynasties and US funding of madrassas are all real issues. (Full list of motions will be uploaded after WUDC Chennai ends).

While there may be more twists and turns in WUDC Chennai along the way, hopefully the high quality of the motions and debates can keep the spirit alive. The simple wish is remembering WUDC 2014 for the debates besides its drama in the land of Bollywood.

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