„Ich würde ich es wohl nicht wieder machen“

Datum: 17. März 2013
Kategorie: International, Menschen, Turniere
Patrick Ehmann

Patrick Ehmann (Photo: Henrik Mädler)

Zweieinhalb Monate nach dem Ende der World Universities Debating Championship Berlin 2013 hat die Achte Minute ein Interview mit Patrick Ehmann gemacht. Er war und ist der Chef des Organisationskommitees der WUDC Berlin 2013. Lest hier seine Einschätzungen zum Vermächtnis des Turniers, seine Sichtweise auf die internationale Debattiercommunity sowie seine persönliche Evaluation.

Achte Minute: Patrick, now that two months have passed after the WUDC Berlin 2013, how do you feel?

Patrick Ehmann: Well, immediately after the tournament I wanted to have nothing to do with the WUDC Berlin 2013 ever again. I was physically and emotionally drained. Now, from a distance I can see the positives that we can draw from the tournament.

What was the most memorable moment for you?
The defining moment for me was the spontaneous standing ovation caused by our statement denouncing racial profiling by the German police. Unfortunately we had such a case where a black African participant was singled out. The obvious thing for us to do was to publicly condemn this police action in front of the assembled community. My words drew a large applause. And then people started standing up. At first I was slow to grasp what was happening and I wanted to finish my statement. Then more and more got up from their seats. The dynamic was electrifying. I had shivers going up and down my spine. I was not sure if my voice would crack when I continued. This was a multi-cultural multi-ethnic group of young people demonstrating their belief in equality. This standing ovation was a performative act of self-ascertainment. I am humbled to have witnessed it.

By providing scholarships to speakers and judges that would not have had the possibility to participate without support you tried to make WUDC Berlin 2013 more inclusive. How do you evaluate the programme?
The programme was another highlight of WUDC Berlin 2013. We managed to make this the most global championship of all times. We had participants from a total of 83 countries, a record.

So we all live in a happy debating community where everyone respects each other?
Generally the multicultural atmosphere is immensely stimulating. But we can only say we are a global community when we truly accept one another. The amazing standing ovation which I’ve interpreted as a performative act of self-ascertainment loses some of its gloss when people decline to actively pay homage to ESL and EFL speakers in the finals.

You placed a lot of effort on the scholarship programme. On the other hand criticism was targeted towards a perceived lack of lavishness. Why did you choose to provide a rather simple championship dinner compared to previous years?
I guess this is something I need to clarify: The funds for the scholarship were targeted and could not have been used to cover other expense. Also, in Manila, during our bid report we presented our target budget and a contingency budget. We were very transparent about the amount of funding that we still seeked to find from sponsors. Our final budget was just above what we had presented in our contingency budget. In hindsight it would still have been possible to allocate funds differently. But planning happens with the knowledge you have at the time. Of course it would’ve been nice to provide a four course menu but one of my responsibilities was to make sure we end the tournament without making a loss. We do not have an underwriter to fall back upon if we had made a loss. The Berlin Debating Union would have had to cover any deficit by itself. Therefore in total I am happy with the way the tournament panned out financially. Once we’ve done all the sums we will end the tournament with a black zero.

Where would you have allocated funds differently?
Accommodation doesn’t have to be in a hotel. Of course it is nice to be in a hotel but at many tournaments crash is the norm. Obviously it would be impossible to find crash for 1100 guests but hostels or student dorms are perfectly sufficient. I’d encourage societies who want to organise larger events to look into this option, as this is an area where a large amount of costs can be cut.

It is normal to transfer by bus. Why did you use the public transport system?
We wanted to provide our guests with the experience of living in Berlin and being part of an ungated worlds. But also it provided us with more flexibility and was cheaper.

An issue which caused controversy was the yakka party. This has been discussed in depth after the tournament. Would you hold another yakka party?
It’s great to see Achte Minute leading the way in this debate. Ultimately, organisers cannot stop people privately holding a yakka party. So we contacted the South African delegation to provide them with support in organising the party. It is very unfortunate that some participants weren’t able to moderate themselves. So yes, I’d provide support for organisers of the yakka party, but at the same time be stricter about limiting the access to the yakka if guests seem to be unable to properly assess themselves.

Why is it a problem if people are just having fun?
When people decide to act irresponsibly in any way it puts pressure on volunteers, who need to find solutions for a predicament which others caused. It almost seems as though a lot of clever young people drop  their ability to think and cooperate once they enter into the debate bubble. My understanding is that organisers and participants form a symbiotic relationship. This is a tournament organised by a bunch of students for a bunch of students.

What are challenges facing WUDC?
Getting the balance right between inclusivity and competitiveness. With limited resources and a growing pool of potential participants this is especially crucial. Steve Johnson’s proposal is excellent as a temporary measure. But I do believe we need to go towards a regional qualification system. Something I’d be more than happy to help develop.
Also we need to make sure that we have a wide variety of potential hosts. As I wrote in my editorial of wudcwatch [the official WUDC Berlin 2013 tournament newspaper] it is our expectations that determine the future of our community. We cannot ignore a trend towards conformity in hosts, a trend that will virtually exclude the vast majority of institutions ever hosting Worlds and also excluding entire continents from ever attending local WUDCs.
Gender imbalance is also something we need to tackle. We can learn a lot from the structures in place in Oceania. I’m pleased to see for the first time in a long while that a woman, Mai Mokhsein, is convening worlds. In Germany I have the impression that the style of debating we cherish is culturally coded as a male form of discourse. This needs to be discussed and potentially redressed.

Patrick, you have been part of OrgComm for lots of tournaments. How was the WUDC different to those other tournaments?
Well it is not possible to just scale up a small tournament of say 80 teams. The WUDC poses a different quality in challenges. Let’s take for example the management of volunteers. At a small tournament you know everyone involved and know at all times what they are doing where. At the WUDC we had a team of five people that was responsible for coordinating 200 volunteers. They made sure all volunteers knew where they had to be, what their specific job description was and that they got enough sleep and food. As soon as you have more than one management level, it becomes challenging to gather all the relevant information. Volunteers are the eyes and ears of any OrgComm. They all bring information that needs to be gathered, sorted and filtered. If problems cannot be solved immediately, they need to be evaluated in the context of the whole tournament. Then a decision needs to be taken, balancing different interests. At smaller tournaments you can almost always alleviate problems fully and instantaneously. At WUDC it is not possible.

Additionally your volunteers with the green scarves and caps were always available for the participants. Didn’t this place them under pressure?
I’ve been to many tournaments where I felt lost. So we always said, we need enough volunteers to be able to provide immediate help to anyone who feels lost. So certainly it did put pressure on our volunteers. But it was worth it: Our volunteers were extremely friendly and helpful. I couldn’t be more grateful to all our volunteers for taking on this burden. Some of them even accompanied guests to hospital when everyone was celebrating New Years.
Additionally, we set up a help desk as a central information office. If a volunteer couldn’t answer a question directly, they always recommended going there, often guiding participants there themselves. The help desk knew answers like when are the next busses running, where is the closest pharmacy.

I heard rumours that participants even wanted to know about prostitution.
That is the first I hear of it. But I guess the help desk managed to help.

At the beginning of the interview you said you were physically and emotionally drained. Has that changed?
Well, to a certain degree, yes.

Finally, what is your personal evaluation of the WUDC Berlin 2013?
Very often during the tournament I felt more like a function than a person. There was hardly a moment when I enjoyed any of the work during the tournament itself. And it is not over yet. There’s probably another half a year of work ahead. So, on the one hand I look back at the positives we’ve achieved and the ideas we’ve hopefully sown regarding structural inclusion, on the other hand, I need to be brutally honest and say if I were asked to do it again, I would most probably decline.

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3 Kommentare zu “„Ich würde ich es wohl nicht wieder machen“”

  1. Marco sagt:

    Thumbs up for this honest interview and thank you for WUDC 2013!

  2. Jake sagt:

    Organization in Berlin was, as we all agreed, disappointing on so many levels. There were no proper parties: two were cancelled (strangely enough for the same reason: nightclub didn’t have an emergency exit), Indian night finished just after midnight and Yakka party was organized in something that looked like a warehouse and not all of the people were able to fit it. With Break night organized in the university lobby, entire social experience was just disappointing, not to mention that all the venues had to be reached individually using public transport.

    There were indeed 200 volunteers, but they were badly informed. Every time I asked them for help, they merely told me to ask another person. Emails to organizers were not answered both before and after WUDC. Breakfasts were so humble, even a prisoner gets more than a piece of bread. I know organizing committee didn’t have a lot of money, but if you aren’t able to organize the championship properly, don’t bid in the first place. Unfortunately, Berlin held worst organized Worlds that I have attended.

  3. Manuel A. sagt:

    Let’s take Yakka as a random allegedly non-fun example and let the pictures speak:

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