How to vote on who runs Worlds: A guide by Patrick Ehmann

Datum: Mar 29th, 2016
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Category: international

It is that time of year when debaters all around the world flock to virtual forums to discuss the merits of the bids for the World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC). Most will argue that this year’s one horse race has already been decided. It probably has, and the Mexicans can be proud of the bid they have presented.

This situation makes it all the easier for me to present what I believe to be a helpful metric in deciding on bids in general. With only one bid, I can hardly be accused of partisanship. I hope my words will resonate in years to come when the bidding process is spicier. As Convener of WUDC Berlin 2013, and having been to six further WUDCs, eight European Universities Debating Championships (EUDCs) and one Pan-African Universities Debating Championship (PAUDC) in wildly different contexts, I believe that I am particularly well placed to assess the qualities of a bid.

The key criterion I use to assess the quality of a bid is: Is the Organisation Committee (OrgComm) comprised of an experienced group of individuals who are honest, show realistic planning and financial astuteness? Beyond that, I believe it desirable to spread debating as wide as possible and encourage the world debating community to take our showpiece beyond Europe and Asia.

1.) How to vote on who runs Worlds

In a first step I consider on what basis a vote ought to be cast. Experience shows that the key to a successful Worlds is a competent OrgComm with a proven track-record and nothing else.

WUDC-Mexico Bid

As Harish Natarajan and Michael Baer (Co-Chief Adjudicators, or Co-CAs, of Chennai Worlds 2014) wrote for the Monash Debate Review (Vol. 12, Dec. 2014), it is wrong to believe “that the adjudication core has control over the logistics of Worlds.” It is therefore all very well to have big-name CAs from around the world, sometimes even up to four. They will not do the work, the OrgComm will do the work. The same applies to advisory boards. Big name advisors who have never run a comparable competition might pull votes, but they won’t do the work! Often enough they will not even be able to provide meaningful advice.

Every WUDC Adjudication Core (AdjCore) in the past few years has been regionally representative with a tendency towards selecting Assistant Chief Adjudicators. Awareness for regional balance is becoming more and more engrained within the communityand to be expected from future CA panels

I am not saying that CAs are unimportant to a bid, but if one does look at the CAs to inform the decision on whom to vote for, then their organisational and managerial capacities and their ability to understand issues of integration should be regarded as more important than their respective motion setting track-record, and even less so their debating achievements. Being a decent debater without being brilliant is a necessary but surely not a sufficient criterion. What is relevant is whether the AdjCore shows that it has a basic understanding for key issues, which is sufficiently done by the prospective CA panel for WUDC México 2018.

For me, danger looms on the other side. As Dessislava Kirova succinctly put it last year: “Right now, the members of the CA panel that are announced by bids are in all cases very talented debaters and adjudicators. But they have not undergone the scrutiny of the community.” (Adjudication Vision and CAP Appointment Policy for the WUDC South Africa Bid 2017) In this vein I suggest that a tendency to name many CA panelmembers by bids is a sign of weakness, not of strength. The focus is shifted from the OrgComm, who are often less well-known, to the AdjCore,who may be known but are not critically relevant to the key decisions of the tournament as a whole.

2.) An Experienced and Honest OrgComm

Under this premise we should look more closely at the OrgComm’s abilities. As a former convener I see four areas as being critical: (1) organisational experience, track record and a willingness to learn; (2) leadership, realistic planning and honesty; (3) finances; and (4) cooperation with partners.

(1) The OrgComm of WUDC México 2018 is highly experienced. A large part of this team ran the World Universities Debating Championship in Spanish, or Campeonato Mundial Universitario de Debate en Español (CMUDE) in 2014 with around 100 teams and a total of over 300 participants. This OrgComm has slowly built up experience in hosting tournaments. The Co-Conveners Montserrat Legoretta and David Alatore have continuously been involved in strategically developing the debating scene in Mexico. This is the kind of experience that points towards the team being led by hard workers, something I find extremely important when bidding for Worlds. For example,the amount of staff presented at this point in time is highly commendable, which indicates the organisers understand how critical a large pool of volunteers is. This means that even if members of the OrgComm drop out (as they inevitably will), the team will not say: “Oh no, we don’t have anybody to fill a key slot, what do we do?” Rather, there will be enough qualified people available to step up.

There are further issues which may help in assessing the integrity of the bidding team. Do they have a positive track record of hosting tournaments and learning from these? And:Do they have a track record of fulfilling bid promises? Having won sponsorship for CMUDE 2014, the latter looks promising. But, since no tournament is without its difficulties, I look to whether the OrgComm is willing and able to learn. Can the OrgComm demonstrate that mistakes of the past will be addressed? This I cannot comment upon but it would be helpful if it were highlighted in bid documents. This nod towards honesty were to instil even more faith. But, having been approached by the OrgComm of WUDC México 2018 and knowing of highly competent people that have travelled to Mexico City and met with the OrgComm,I suggest that that the team is willing to learn.

(2) The OrgComm is realistic and honest. To me it is extremely positive that the bidding team is conservative in its approach. It has provided three financial scenarios. This shows they are well-led, honest and are willing to plan realistically. Even the best-looking potential sponsorship deals very often do not materialise. It is clear that this tournament can run on registration fees alone, which means what is promised will be delivered.

Particularly positive is that there are clear accommodation options and these are on balance very good. It would have been easy for the Mexicans to present an overdrawn bid in Thessaloniki including claims of luxury resorts and comfortably win the right to host because of a lack of competition. They took the more arduous but also more prudent route of letting a certain victory become uncertain. This is testament to them acting sensibly and only presenting things that will work. It shows they are not bidding because of their own egos, but have the best interests of the community at heart. Nevertheless, I am surprised that only the offer of the Sevilla Palace Hotel and not of the Krystall Hotel has been attached to the document.

To quote Baer and Natarajan again: “Our experience suggests that hotels are an aspect of the bidding process where it is especially easy to over-promise and under-deliver.” This is because accommodation is typically the most expensive item in any budget. We all love staying in flashy five-star hotels, but a 3-star hotel or even student dormitories are perfectly sufficient. If ever there is a way to cut costs, it is with regard to accommodation. If the lodgings are within walking distance of the venues this is great as it highly amenable to creating memorable social interaction. Then a reduction in the quality can be accepted. I would suggest to future hosts to always look into reducing the accommodation costs.

3.) A Realistic Budget

The OrgComm has presented a budget that is as detailed and realistic as it can be at this point. Budgets are notoriously tricky. On the one hand you want to show you have money, on the other hand, no-one really has money when they bid.By presenting three scenarios, this ambivalence is dealt with well.

Many of the numbers in the budget will change in the next two years (some even by orders of magnitude). We cannot assess by how much. So, when looking at a budget the only realistic approach is to ask general, systemic questions. Under this metric the budget is well-calculated. The key question is: If the worst case scenario occurs, can the tournament take place without additional costs placed on the participants? This can be broken down further:

  • Have the big expenses been taken into account realistically? I say yes. The figures for accommodation (61% of total expenses, including volunteer accommodation), transport (13%, including independent adjudicators and CA panel funding) and food (15%) are the biggest budget items. The figures are similar to what we spent in Berlin. In Berlin accommodation was 49% (excluding volunteer accommodation), transport 14% and food was 13%. I do not see the necessity of housing the volunteers in the tournament hotels. This would be a way to reduce costs.
  • Have volunteer costs been taken into account? Again, I say yes. Volunteer costs are substantial but often forgotten. This budget includes them. It shows far-sightedness.
  • Is there a contingency fund? I say no. None of the three scenarios show a calculated surplus (i.e. contingency funds). In Berlin, we worked with a contingency fund of 5%; this is what I recommend to all future bidding institutions.
  • Have currency fluctuations been taken into account? Here also, I say no. The budget shows no allowance for currency fluctuations. Having this would be prudent and allows for leeway, particularly as it seems the registration fee will be levied in US-Dollars. As the costs will be accrued in Mexico,it could be justified to levy the registration fees (as the largest source of income) in Mexican Pesos. This shifts the risk from the organisers to the participants. As the key question is how to reduce fundamental risks to the tournament, I would find this acceptable.

Despite the University seemingly providing the debating locations for free, it would be prudent to specifically show this in the budget, i.e. by providing a budget item of zero Mexican Pesos.

(c) Manuel Adams

Patrick Ehmann (c) Manuel Adams

4.) High-Quality Institutional Support

The OrgComm has secured the amount of institutional supporters that is necessary and typical at this point in time. Again, we have to assess what is feasible 21 months before the tournament. The university is on board, the local city council is on board, the local debating association is on board, and beyond that, I welcome the potential professionalisation by incorporating a software company for the registration process. Despite the experience the OrgComm has amassed (as outlined above), a WUDC presents challenges that are hard to fathom, one issue being the overwhelming task of managing registration. Having a service provider on board that has run similar events before is welcome as it means things don’t need to be learnt by trying, but by falling back on experience.

The support of the national debating association is crucial as this will ensure that the necessary amount of volunteers will be around to help.

5.) Spreading Debating around the World

I believe it is important to spread Worlds around the globe. It would be bad if we had a seventh competition in sequence in either Asia (3) or Europe (3). I believe that there is a systemic discrimination in world debating that is perpetuated by the lack of spreading of opportunities. How will non-Latin Americans get to know the diversity and quality of debating and organisational capacities in Latin America if they do not experience them? As a community, we will not overcome this prejudice unless we take systematic action.

Yet, I remain confident, as we have previously managed to overcome some prejudices. Worlds was initially a white, firstlanguage-dominated, first world-dominated event. With seven editions having taken place in Asia and four in non-English speaking Europe this has changed for the better. Overcoming some disadvantages means creating new ones, which need to be addressed. Currently, Latin American and African debating (despite the three Worlds previously held there) are disadvantaged and benefit most as regions by hosting Worlds.

WUDC Berlin 2013 initiated a scholarship programme for debaters from communities with traditionally low access to Worlds. I was extremely pleased to see that this lead was followed by Malaysia Worlds 2015. It would be great if WUDC México 2018 were also to provide a scholarship programme instead of ramping up independent adjudicator subsidies. Yet, a scholarship programme cannot be the long-term solution as only a few individuals benefit, and even then accessibility is still limited. For example, we at WUDC Berlin 2013 experienced that some of the scholarship recipients were denied EU visas.

It is an open secret that more participants attend from close-by if travel costs are low. If we want to truly spread debating, then we need to take Worlds to where those with accessibility difficulties come from.

6.) Food for thought

Maybe on a final thoughtful note: We bray at bidding teams, ask them to achieve the almost impossible, rip them apart in questioning and then leave them to their own devices for two years. Afterwards we don’t really care about what happens to the individuals or the hosting institutions, and the final reports in council are a footnote. I am all for rigorous questing and high quality events. We should understand, though, that our demands often lead to outrageous bids with wonderful promises which cannot be fulfilled. Once in a while a bid comes along that is honest and well-placed. I admire this openness. I endorsed last year’s South Africa WUDC 2017 bid for this reason and for the same prudence I commend the WUDC México 2018 bid. I encourage all to vote for a World Universities Debating Championship in Mexico City in 2018!

Partick Ehmann was Convener of WUDC Berlin in 2013. He was vice champion in German debating in 2007, 2009, and 2011. He was ESL-Semifinalist at WUDC 2006 and EUDC 2008 and broken as a judge twice each at EUDC and WUDC. He chief adjudicated the German Championship in 2008 and the Zimbabwean National Debate Championship 2012, and is co-CA of both the South African National Universities Debating Championship and the Pan-African Debate Championship in 2016. From 2009-2011 he was president of the Berlin Debating Union.

Patrick Ehmann/hug/hoe

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2 Kommentare zu “How to vote on who runs Worlds: A guide by Patrick Ehmann”

  1. Patric Flommersfeld says:

    Aren’t there any concerns regarding the security in Mexico? Aren’t over 1000 kids of politicians and more or less wealthy families, gathered in one location, an exposed target for criminal groups in this troubled region? Do they hire additional security?

  2. @Patric:
    Two things regarding security concerns:
    1.) Most parts of Mexico are not especially unsafe during daylight and the city centre of Mexico City is extraordinarily safe for what you would expect from a city of 20+ million people.
    2.) ITESM is one of the leading universities in Hispanoamerica and highly concerned about their image in the world. If there were any doubts that the security of just a single particpant could not be fully assured, ITESM would not allow its students to host the event in the first place.

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