Congratulations to National University of Singapore 1 (NUS) for taking down the Asian Championships! The team comprising of Adil Hakeem, Lucas Li and Nar Sher May brought the title back to Singapore after a drought of 2 years (the dark ages that we shall not speak of). It was last won by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2014 and NUS hasn’t won since its first UADC title in 2011.
The rest of the Singaporean contingent did well too with NTU breaking 2nd (but unfortunately getting knocked out in the octo-finals), Andre Kua, Alfred and myself ranking as the 3rd, 4th, and 5th best adjudicators, and Justin John Surin from NTU also breaking as an adjudicator. Singapore Management University (SMU) narrowly missed out on the breaks ranking 18th after the preliminary rounds. Speaker and judge tabs available here and here.
While it appeared as though NUS had won in dominating fashion, especially in a one-sided finals (result was an 8-1 split), this UADC was actually a lot more open than that. Going into the preliminary rounds, there weren’t clear frontrunners like the past 2 years where we all knew it would be an International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) – Universiti Teknologi MARA (UT MARA) finals.
NUS certainly had a strong team which had made the octo-finals of the Austral-Asian debating championships a month prior, but were knocked out by IIUM 1 (consisting of Shitab 'Bengal Tiger' Daiyan Akash, Banun ‘Bunny’ Sabri and Syarif ‘Boy Wonder 2.0’ Fakri) who ended up making a deep run to the semi-finals in that same tournament. The NTU team had the 2015 Asian British Parliamentary champions in Woo Kai Shan and Yi-An Shih. There was also Ateneo de Manila University 1 with the indomitable Andrei Buendia and dark horse Taylor’s University who also made the octo-finals at Australs. Of course there was the perennial South Asian threat in Institute of Business Administration University of Dhaka 1 (IBA-DU), coupled with some Indian or Pakistani team that always seem to come out of nowhere and slap teams around (it turned out to be Delhi University 1 this year).
So given the number of ‘legit’ teams, with no massive differences in skill or experience it really was anyone’s game. Until NUS 1 surprisingly went 8-0 in the prelims, breaking 1st and establishing itself as the frontrunner. It is interesting to note that NUS 1 only faced 3 of the teams mentioned earlier in the prelim rounds, Ateneo 1 once, and IBA-DU 1 and Delhi 1 twice each. Would things have been different had the matchups been more diverse? It’s hard to say.
The break rounds was really a tale of two brackets. NUS 1 performed like the top seed in their bracket, struggling only in the semi-finals against
Andrei Buendia Ateneo 1. The other bracket on the other hand was a bloodbath. 15th seed University of Malaya 1 (UM) came out of nowhere and took out the number 2 seed NTU in the octos and proceeded to demolish Taylor’s in the quarters. Ateneo 2 (11th), on the other hand, took out both IIUM 1 (6th) and IBA-DU 1 (3rd) in shock upsets and then made short work of UM in the semis.
This is the primary reason why I would mark any claims of dominance with an asterisk. Both Ateneo 2 and UM 1 punched above their weight and NUS found a relatively inexperienced opponent in the finals. Not to take anything away from NUS, they were definitely consistently good. Or at least consistently better than their opponents. And sometimes, that’s all it takes.
As for the English as Foreign Language (EFL) break, it was the same old Indonesian dominance. Instead of Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) taking home the title, it went to Institut Teknologi Bandung 1 (ITB). Given the year on year improvements that the Indonesian circuit have been making, they should become serious threats in the open break soon enough. It was heartening to see a Chinese team (Shanghai University of Finance and Economics) in the EFL final but the lack of consistent participation from North East Asia is a problem and it will be hard for the region to make headway in the EFL category in the future.
A couple of interesting developments. First, the age of Malaysian dominance may finally be over. UT MARA sent 5 teams, none of which broke and it was probably its poorest showing at UADC in recent memory. As for IIUM, they will still have a strong team as long as Syarif is around, but I’m not sure how long much longer Bunny and Shitab are eligible to debate. And there aren’t any obvious successors to the IIUM legacy as there were in the past. Is this merely a lull while both institutions rebuild? Will other institutions like UM or Taylor’s step up to fly the flag? We’ll have to wait and see.
Second, the rise of South Asia can no longer be ignored. One of the two best speakers in Asia is Sajid Asbat Khandaker from IBA-DU (tied with Andrei Buendia). 4 out of the top 10 speakers at this UADC came from the region. Another 4 took the 12th-15th spots on the tab. IBA-DU at the very least is becoming a serious force to be reckoned with. If they achieve similar levels of consistency in the break rounds as they currently have in the preliminary rounds, it definitely won’t be long before we see a South Asian team in the finals, maybe even taking home the championship.
Overall, there’s a lot more parity in the circuit. It’s no longer a game of musical chairs amongst the same tired institutions (although it was NUS and Ateneo in the finals), but this UADC has shown that there is room for ‘non-traditional’ teams to pull a Daenerys and to aim to break the wheel entirely.
The motions this year were fantastic. There were so many old school content heavy rounds (2 international relations rounds!!), where if you didn’t know your stuff, you would just roll over and die. Over the past few years we’ve noticed a general trend of trying to make motions more accessible - I call it dumbing down. There was also experimentation, we saw a rise of actor debates where you debate from the perpective of a single person or group in society and hypothetical motions which force you to deal with philosophical issues within some imaginary scenario. While there were a couple of those types of motions sprinkled here and there this year, it was largely fresh, real world, knowledge intensive motions. And that was brilliant. Full list of UADC motions available here.
I think it’s safe to say that the community was highly skeptical about the tournament being hosted in Cambodia, with no history of hosting large international competitions, and being a new face at UADC. It didn’t help that the dates had to be moved till all the way after Australs, which was an awkward time for a number of institutions.
But it was amazing. The hotel was one of the best I’ve stayed at for a tournament. Solid resort, service was excellent, it was easy to get around everywhere by tuk tuk, and everyone was warm and hospitable. $2.50 USD cocktails at the hotel bar during happy hour didn’t hurt things either. Everything was convenient, from the airport pick-up to registration to getting to the debate venues. All about 10-15 minutes away from each other. The organizing committee was definitely on the ball and always ready to provide assistance when needed. All the small things were thought through, including having an incredibly active social media team to post announcements regularly on Facebook. And live streams of all the rounds. Runners were efficient, knew what they were doing, rushing and annoying the judges as they should be, basically ensuring the tournament ran on time. Until the tab team screwed things up. More on that later.
The tournament food was meh – it didn’t look appetizing and I was usually stuffed from the wonderful breakfast spread at the hotel so I didn’t touch it. Refreshments were available for participants throughout the day. Bottled water (WOW FREE WATER), coke, even iced water and I think coffee and tea (I could be wrong) were all provided. If I had to nitpick, the debate venue was pretty ghetto. It was some small international primary school and all of us were gathered under some large hot tent to wait for matchups and motions displayed on two small screens. At least there were fans all around and one portable air-conditioning unit that people fought over to stand in front of. Two debaters were stabbed with pens in the territorial dispute. Some survivors of Chennai WUDC were also triggered and had to be given heavy sedatives on day 1. Meals were served also under a large tent on a field in the back. Which was fine, until it rained and started leaking. But really, this is just my first world privilege speaking. 10/10 would certainly come back to Cambodia again for a debate tournament. If this is their first attempt, and the biggest thing I can complain about is the lack of air-conditioning, I’m seriously excited for more tournaments hosted by SpringBoard Cambodia. Please bid again for something in the future.
Now the not-so-nice parts. I’m not gonna mince words and straight up say the tab team was pretty bad. Anyone who has been to a big tournament knows that everything needs to come together to run on schedule, the org comm needs to be on top of things, the adj core has to ensure motions are ready, that clear instructions are given, but also the tabs need to be sorted quickly. Day 1 had insane delays. We ended at 9pm which is just ridiculous. Especially since we all got up at 6am to get to breakfast and to leave the hotel by 7+. Apparently, the tabs crashed, and WiFi was bad so there were really long breaks in between rounds. It didn’t help that we were all dying in the heat. An efficient tab team isn’t just about inputting the scores as quickly as possible. It’s about crisis management, how do you deal with everything when shit hits the fan. In addition, the tab system should be stress tested in advance. It was only until the later rounds was the tab room moved down below to get better WiFi reception – a problem that should have been identified and solved earlier.
More importantly, while this system of online adjudicator feedback is a brilliant idea in theory, the execution was problematic. Which added to the delays. You rely on teams remembering to do it. And when they don’t there isn’t anyone chasing them to submit their feedback. There was this wall of shame displaying team names of those who haven’t submitted feedback yet but just doesn’t work because teams go all over the place right after a round, talking to other debaters, thinking about losses, or having extended conversations with adjudicators about the round. They aren’t always going to be in the convening area staring at the screens to be reminded. If the runners were so efficient in pressuring the adjudicators to submit their scores in a timely fashion, then you have to do the same with the teams. I mean if everyone is getting to the venues by 8, there’s just no reason why the tournament can’t run on time. /endrant.
TLDR: I had an amazing time in Cambodia and I’m sure many others would say the same too. There were a couple of things that prevented it from being a perfect tournament, but then again, few actually hit that mark.
So Nepal is bidding to host UADC 2018! Unfortunately, the bid didn’t get approved at council so it was pushed to an online vote. I think it’s a fantastic idea to give developing circuits the chance to host, especially since many institutions are unwilling to go through the whole trouble of hosting in the first place. But the bid and the way it was made does concern me a bit. Ok, a lot. The bid presentation that was done during council pretty much said something along the lines of “hey guys we just thought about bidding a couple of days ago...so nothing is really set in stone.” It doesn’t do much to create confidence in the community. I could be wrong, but they haven’t participated in UADC and they weren’t physically present to bid (Shitab presented on their behalf) so that doesn’t help either. They need to recognise that it is and will be perceived as a huge risk because people don’t want to travel all the way there and have a terrible experience. Just having big names on the bid document as advisors doesn’t really help as we all know that does nothing to guarantee their involvement in the planning process. And yes, good food and a nice location are bonus points, but really, won’t every potential host say the same thing about their own country? It just doesn’t do much as the focal point of the bid. The tournament experience comes first and foremost.
Why was everyone willing to take a chance with Cambodia? Well, even they didn’t succeed immediately. They were observers in 2014 at NTU UADC, tried to bid at Bali in 2015 but failed, came back in 2016, made a lot of promises (including guaranteeing that SpringBoard will run at a loss – I believe them now for sure), got the whole 2016 adjudication core on board to lobby institutions on their behalf. So they not only had a keen awareness of how the tournament is run, but experience in bidding. And how to play the political game to win votes. Even then, they barely edged out the competing Malaysian bid.
What does Nepal need to do then? Build a proper bid document with all the details confirmed. Have a social media presence. Commit to lowering rego fees as much as possible. Flights for most Southeast Asian institutions will be crazy expensive, and given that the bulk of Charter A votes are in Southeast Asia, Nepal needs to do a lot more to convince them to vote in their favour. Start lobbying, now. Talk to institution representatives. Ensure that people know who the team is and why they are reliable hosts. All of this needed to begin last week. Competition is coming. There already were rumours of other possible bids during council, and I’m very sure it isn’t long before they publicly announce themselves. If Nepal doesn’t get out in front before then, they will lose.
Oh and the adjudication core elected for 2018 was Leslie Torres, Jainah, Lysa Wei, Souradip Sen, and Andre Kua. No controversy whatsoever. Nothing to see here. Move along please.
That just about sums up everything that went on at UADC 2017. If you found this interesting and want more of such pieces, like us on Facebook and leave a comment on this page. We’ll be publishing content for the British Parliamentary (BP) format in the lead up to ABP and the World Universities Debating Championship. Well Alfred will be doing it. I’ll be off to the Summer China Debate Academy in Hangzhou.