The UCU Open Tournament takes place this weekend. It’s a pretty big tournament, with 60 teams expected. Fitting for its size, the UCU Open has an adjucation panel consisting of legendary debaters and expert adjudicators Danique van Koppenhagen, Harish Natarajan, Manos Moschopoulos, Maja Cimerman, Michael Shapira and Menno Schellekens. Here’s their latest views on debating, Dutch debaters and maybe also some hints on the coming tournament.
Seventwenty: wow! That’s an impressive adjudication panel! How did you manage preparing before the tournament?
Michael Shapira: First of all, we are all friends also outside of debate land, It makes working together a lot easier. It’s very true that larger “A-teams” come with many potential problems. But I think that in general we were able to overcome most of those and found good ways to process the thoughts of everyone so that they can be heard, evaluated and properly used. This was done mostly by using different forms of shared spreadsheets as a brainstorming tool. We like the end result, and I can only hope the reaction to our motions in UCU proves us right.
Seventwenty: So, what kind of motions can we expect to see – lots of analysis? Or, given that Michael Shapira is a notorious history buff, even some time-setting?
Michael Shapira: We indeed plan to use time setting, and in fact I insisted that all motions are set to my home timezone of GMT +2. We expect debaters to be able to argue from the point of view of a person living one hour in the future, with all the benefits of hindsight that gives. More seriously, Yes, History will be used in some of the motions, and anyone who read the works of Plutarch in the original Latin at least once should be able to do very well in this tournament (His writings in Greek are not so relevant this time around).
Seventwenty: What do you expect, in general, from debaters at your tournament? What is your judging philosophy?
Harish Natarajan: I kind of assume that most judges don’t think they have one, but just judge ‘correctly’ (whatever that means). But I personally view style and structure as just ways to make me follow what you’re saying better, and thus credit more.
Seventwenty: And what’s the stupidest thing a debater can do?
Maja Cimerman: Being late for a debate is quite stupid. Also, arguing with your judge about the ranking for the rest of the tournament is pretty bad. Except if your judge is Manos, he loves talking about his calls during the social.
Seventwenty: A question for the international judges: you’re a pretty experienced bunch of debaters and adjudicators, who have seen many Dutch debaters compete. What’s your general view of Dutch debating? What do we do well and were could we improve?
Maja Cimerman: Dutch debaters consistently rank high at international tournaments and there is always a team that is in the play for Worlds and Euros ESL title. In my experience debaters from Netherlands have a big advantage because of their great English, but also have loads of knowledge and great grasp of philosophical topics. But also, a lot of them most of the time seems very serious. I don’t know, maybe it’s me.
Michael Shapira: I love Dutch debaters, Hanneke Berman (Haifa) and Alon Van Dam (RRIS) for example, are fantastic. But seriously, The Netherlands is a debating power house developing formidable debaters year after year. At least in Israel, we have a lot of respect for the Dutch Debating Circuit.
Manos Moschopoulos: Well, the Dutch circuit started EUDC as we know it in 1999, gave us the only ESL team that won the open break in 2004 and has given us some incredible debaters and judges like Leela Koenig that have inspired other ESL speakers to reach above and beyond what they used to. Eventually though, what I’d like to see is more Dutch teams in tournaments outside western Europe, so that they can contribute to and gain experience in the up and rising southeastern European circuit. If that happens then we’ll have a constant supply of tournaments with an excellent competitive field for everyone to learn in.
Harish Natarajan: Just to betray how long I’ve been debating, the first time I saw Dutch debaters was when Jan Rosing and Klaas van Schelven won the open EUDC final at Durham in 2004 (!) And Dutch debaters have since then always been amongst the best European speakers. But perhaps a little more argumentative insanity.
Seventwenty: Hold on! Argumentative insanity?
Harish Natarajan: I think most debaters focus a little too much on a standard set of arguments. Not that they aren’t made well, but sometimes it’s productive to just being a little more creative. That often leads to incredible failures, but other times it leads to something quite amazing.
Seventwenty: Let’s see if there’s some debaters out there who are willing to bring some of that ‘Argumentative Insanity’ at the coming UCU Open. Good luck, A-team, and thanks for the interview!