On Thessaloniki

This year’s World Universities’ Debating Championships in Thessaloniki, Greece was really, really good.


This post is part reporting, congratulations, commiserations, reflections, thanks and straight-forward record-keeping. There’s lots about this week I don’t want to forget. A warning: I have a weakness for being melodramatic, and that weakness is thoroughly indulged here.

Finals night with Anaika

Finals night with Anaika

Congratulations and Thanks

The most gratifying feature of this Worlds was seeing so many close friends get all the success and recognition they deserve. Debating is an activity into which we pour so much time and effort, constantly striving to get better. Seeing it come together at Worlds is a joy.

There are too many names to mention, so here’s an abridged attempt.

Begin with Cindy Zhang. Your enthusiasm and determination to improve is inspiring and it was both an honour and a pleasure working with you at Sciences Po this term. You and Jackie were mighty impressive at Centrale and I’m so glad you’ve been rightly recognised as one of the best English as a Foreign Language (EFL) speakers in the world. Your EFL semi-final is a cracker.



With Cindy and Jackie (Peking A)

Never has a team brought a smile to my face as much as Marc-Andre Schulz and Ruben Brandhofer. From the first time we met you in Cologne, it was clear you were an outstanding, outstanding team.
Marc and Ruben

Marc-Andre Schulz and Ruben Brandhofer, RWTH Aachen A. Credit: Manuel J. Adams

You were brilliant at Centrale and Anaika, Catherine and I were so proud to see you in the English as a Second Language final. See it here:
Daan Welling and Bionda Merckens have given so much to Dutch debating over the years and it was an immense privilege to see their storming run to the open quarter-finals. Daan, you’ve been an ever-present fount of debating support, knowledge and humour. I was so glad I got to see you do what you did.

Bionda Merckens (Radboud A) speaking in the WUDC Octo-finals


Daan Welling (Radboud A) speaking in the WUDC Quarter-finals

Meanwhile, the future of Dutch debating looks frighteningly bright. Roel Becker and Gigi Gil (Leiden A) and Floris Holstege and Emma Lucas (Leiden B) both made the ESL semi-finals and were wonderful company throughout. Part of my WUDC prep involved taking notes on some of the WSDC debates you’ve been in, so I owe you one.
The Durham squad also did fantastically well. Imogen Maclaren, George Bainbridge, Katie Heard and Kez Exley all rocked up to speak at WUDC for the first time and all made the Octo-finals. A truly awesome achievement, and Durham’s best WUDC showing since 2012.
Katie Heard and Kez Exley (Durham A) in the WUDC Octo-finals

Katie Heard and Kez Exley (Durham A) in the WUDC Octo-finals

Durham Past and Present

Durham Past and Present

The support from old Durham friends – both at Thessaloniki and from back home – was also invaluable. Joe and Ed, thank you for your support in our Partial Double Octo-final. Your stories and endless inimitable wit and humour across the tournament made this Worlds a brighter and more bearable one.

With Durham alumni Ed Hauschild and Joe Lewis

Thanks too to Simon, Dory, Elise, Harriet, Moran, Jess, Ben Lau, Catrin, Steve Raj, my parents and everyone else who sent us good wishes. It meant a lot.
From Ireland, congratulations to Michael and Dee (TCD Hist A), and Matthew and Hannah (TCD Phil A), for yet another superb showing at an international. Michael and Dee also provided the most prophetic conversation of this tournament, when they lamented the night before the final that CA teams are no longer willing to set big, bold motions, like ‘This House would Socialism’. You got your wish.
Speaking of which, credit to John and the CA team for setting one of the best final motions in recent times: ‘This House Believes that the world’s poor would be justified in pursuing complete Marxist revolution.’  The atmosphere was electric. You can watch the debate here. The oratory is out of this world.
Bo Seo and Fanele Mashwama (Harvard A), winners of the Open category of WUDC 2016

Bo Seo and Fanele Mashwama (Harvard A), winners of the Open category of WUDC 2016. Credit: Manuel J. Adams

Michael Dunn Goejikan (r) and Harish Natarajan (l) (PEP A), the top two speakers at WUDC 2016. Credit: Manuel J. Adams

Michael Dunn Goekjian (r) and Harish Natarajan (l) (PEP A), the top two speakers at WUDC 2016. Credit: Manuel J. Adams

From Israel, Dan, Ayal, Stav and Monica cemented the reputation of Tel Aviv as a force to be reckoned with in world debating. Your dedication, commitment and desire to succeed is an inspiration to us all. Dan and Ayal’s semi-final was one of the best debates I’ve ever seen, and I encourage everyone to watch it:
From Germany again, it was a pleasure to see Florian and Julian from BiTS Iserlohn make the break. Hearing your Closing Government case on why women should be given free video games at Tilbury House was one of my highlights on the circuit this term. You have well and truly put BiTS on the map.

Bringing the Sciences Po style on Day 2

The rise and rise of Malaysia is irresistible in world debating and enormous cheers met the news that Mifzal and Jasmine (UT Mara A) had broken 2nd. I can think of no pair more deserving of such success at this WUDC. Cambridge was just the beginning.
Jasmine Ho and Mifzal Mohammed (UT Mara A), the 2nd breaking team at WUDC 2016. Credit: Henrik Maedler

Jasmine Ho and Mifzal Mohammed (UT Mara A), the 2nd breaking team at WUDC 2016. Credit: Henrik Maedler

I’ve always been fascinated by Hart House. I remember one of the first tournaments I went to was the Oxford IV at the start of second year at Durham. Veenu gave an absolutely devastating Deputy Leader of Opposition speech against the right to bear arms in the final. I’d never seen anything so good.
Joe McGrade and Veenu Goswami (Hart House A), the top breaking team at WUDC 2016. Credit: Manuel J. Adams

Joe McGrade and Veenu Goswami (Hart House A), the top breaking team at WUDC 2016. Credit: Manuel J. Adams

Ever since, the bellicose ‘Whose House!? HART HOUSE!’ battle-cry that rings out at an international tournament has brought a smile to my face, and it was a pleasure to both finally meet and root on Joe and Veenu in the final. You guys crushed it, champions of our hearts.
There was also no nicer way of going out of the tournament than by being comprehensively KOed by Aislin and Lex, the tour-de-force of Hart House B. You guys are so, so good and so, so nice. I hope our paths cross again.
Lex Sundarsingh and Aislin Flynn (Hart House B). Credit: Lex Sundarsingh

The astoundingly talented Lex Sundarsingh and Aislin Flynn (Hart House B). Credit: Lex Sundarsingh

For all that, debate can be a cruel game. We turn up at Worlds having done the prep tournaments, created the case files, put in the work behind the scenes. With any luck, you’re still live on Day 3.
You then get the lottery of three specific configurations of teams, positions and motions, the results of which determine the break. Any minor variation on any of the three variables would likely change the break significantly. You roll the dice and hope for the best. It’s all pretty brutally unfair.
The Thessa sea-front

The Thessa sea-front

In that context, spare a thought for teams like Lucy and Daniel (UCD L&H B), who chilled out around the top room for 7 out of 9 rounds, only to have an unlucky bounce down in the closed rounds.
Or Paige and Clare (Nottingham A), who hit a 17 point room in Round 9 but bowed out in Opening Government. An outstanding performance. I’m sorry I didn’t get to catch up with you personally.
The White Tower

The White Tower

Or Owen and Chris (Glasgow A), who went into the closed rounds on 15 points, but hit an unlucky run in R7-9. I’m sure similar stories can be told for the likes of Martin and Olivia (Linkopings A), Dan and Ryan (St Andrews A), Saskia and Claudia (LSE B), Harry and Quito (Stanford A), Nathan and Nissim (BPP A), Cerys and Scott (UCL A), Matt and Etsuko (Cambridge C), Aodhan and Paul (UCD Law A), Cliodhna and Eoin(UCD L&H A), Beckie and Chloe (Manchester A), Callum and Lucia (Sheffield A), and so on.
Anaika making some new friends on the Olive Trail

Anaika making some new friends on the Olive Trail

With some strongly weighted motions, questionable judge allocations and panels, it’s easy to see how some of the best teams at this tournament were royally screwed by the circumstances. You don’t need anyone to tell you: you know how good you are.
On the social side, Worlds was a fantastic experience. Debating is great because you get to meet people from lots of different universities, but the problem is that it’s usually only fleetingly. At Worlds, there’s more time. (And an upside of all the delays at this tournament was that there was often plenty more time)


So a personal highlight of this Worlds was all the little opportunities to catch up with/share a joke with/get to know better/meet for the first time, lots of friendly faces.
Every interaction made this Worlds better than it would’ve otherwise been, so particular thanks to:
NAMDA past and present; Callum, Lucia, Jess, Ethan, Katy, Jamie, Eleanor, Alex, Clare, Beckie, Gareth, Richard, Mancey, Hawk, Wiggles, Charlie. The Irish; Stephen, Kevin, Eoin, Valerie, Sarah, Daisy, Lorna, Maria. The Scots; Gillis, Dan, Bethany, Erin, Duncan, John, Gabrielle (honorary), Nish. The Londoners; Gavin, Hannah, Dan, Saskia, Claudia, Emma, Kelvin, Bailey, Nick, Caitlyn, Caleb, James. The Oxbridge crew: Marlena, Annie, Jamie, Raffy, Toby, Tommy, T Simps, Matt, George, Assad. The Europeans: Emilia, Milla, Olle, Sarah, Charlie, Andrea, Karin, Annabelle. The Rest of the World: Colin, Steph, Leo, Seb, Daniel.

The famous Capsis lobby walnuts

A special word for Daniel, my new favourite Bond villain and with whom slip-catching walnuts in the Capsis Hotel lobby at 3am and an abortive game of shadow cricket in the Thessaloniki Concert Hall will fondly endure in the memory.
The two most important thanks last. First, Anaika. Thank you for responding to that Facebook post, that leap of faith. Training in the Sciences Po garden in the rain, winning all five at Tilbury, getting to the Oxford final, patrolling the Olive Trail: they’ve been fantastic memories. Your calm and composure were remarkable. I regularly forgot this was your first Worlds. It was just great from start to finish.
Anaika tries the stewed goat

Anaika tries the stewed goat

I’m also glad we were filmed a couple of times, particularly Round 4. Good, good memories.
Finally, and most importantly, Catherine. Your patience and support were heroic. Thank you for all of the late-night practices in the flat, all of your judging at our training sessions, all of the feedback you gave Anaika and me. You taught us so much. Thank you for teaming up to top the Lund tab (man’s never been in!!) and for supporting us in every way throughout the tournament. It simply could not have happened without you. You are perfect.
A final thought. Driving back to the hotel after Round 9, I realised why this tournament had been so great. We were in this beautiful mental space where it no longer mattered. We had given it our all. We had been in some of the most difficult, challenging and interesting debates ever. We had met amazing people. We had given some of our all-time best speeches. We had left nothing in the locker. We’d had fun. And when we look back on this week, that will be all that matters.

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