One Weekend in Utrecht

This post is written by SOAS fresher Tom Elias:

With weary eyes and bated breath, the SOAS team left the bus- their home for the past ten hours- and began their new life as international debaters.

It was a cold, cold morning, but the shared excitement of the squad kept optimism high and expectations higher. Despite numerous errors en-route (wrong buses  sleeping on the beanbags of an unknown hostel, missing our stop when actually on the right bus), we made it to the secluded beauty that was the University College Utrecht campus. Fresh from a power nap on the sofas of the UCU cafeteria, SOAS was moving into debate mode and the countdown began to what would be the most enjoyable tournament of the year so far.

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With the sun setting, the SOAS debsoc entered the fray. With final handshakes of camaraderie, the seven international debaters split off into their component teams; SOAS WP (Sam and Rafael), SOAS WS (Hannah and Weng Yu) and SOAS EQ (Tom and Ismaail), aptly supported by judge Anna.

The first motion was to do with football, specifically the limits imposed on club spending. The team sighed in unison; “not another football one”, Hannah’s eyes seemed to say. The debate was tough and the SOAS machine suffered a shock to the system; a bad start. Psyching themselves up for the second and final debate of the evening, Wen-Yu channeled her inner Sheraz and gave a speech of such inspiration that cracks began to show in the emotionless exterior of the other debaters. With the message of “destroy them” still ringing through their ears, the team moved on to debate the duty of the EU to states that secede from member states. Looking themselves to succeed (and secede from the lower rooms), the teams brought their ‘A’ game to this debate and pulled off a remarkable turnaround, setting themselves up perfectly for the next day. With crash established on the lovely sofas of the lovely Utrecht students, the team decided a bar visit was necessary. Despite failing in the major aim of finding food, the squad did find nourishment in the friendship of other debaters; gathered on the peaceful UCU campus from all four corners of the continent. After a brief demonstration in the ways of interpretive dance from Rafael and Ismaail, the gang decided to get an early night and adhere strictly to a ‘one drink maximum’ policy…

Waking up tired the next day, the able crew of merry debaters took their place in the auditorium, motivated as ever to win the first round; the last of the open ones. “This house would fund hymen reconstruction”, the words swirled around the arena, bouncing off the blank faces of the heroes. Trudging out through the mud proved cathartic for the teams however, and blank faces turned to smiles with the realization that Year 7 biology was still firmly implanted in their memories. The debate again proved successful for the teams, and expectations were soaring moving into the final two ‘closed’ rounds. The first of the two dealt with whether it was important to show regret for the invasion of Afghanistan; a tough ask. The second, and final, of the closed rounds was whether or not to promote the idea that the next Bond should be female. This motion allowed the creative juices to flow and laid the foundations for some great (and some not-so-great) arguments.  “Which actress would you pick to play the new bond.” Needless to say, the debaters left the final rounds full of laughter and were in high-spirits entering the atrium to hear the break.

The wait was tense; the structure of the tournament was such that it would be impossible to make even an educated guess on your final standing. Tension gave way to elation as Sam and Rafael were proclaimed as breaking third; a stellar achievement. The anticipation reached record levels when it announced that Hannah and Weng-Yu had tied for the final break position; both on team and speaker points. Sadly, Hannah and Weng Yu were not chosen to progress to out rounds, and were left to rue what might have been. It had been a great weekend of debating and SOAS had shown itself to be a stand-out competitor; especially when considering the mind-bogglingly short amount of time we have all been debating for (just 4 weeks!). Nonetheless, the hopes and desires of the institution were pinned on the capable backs of Sam and Rafael. Although in the semi-final -on the touchy topic of the Yasukuni war shrines- the team did not pull through, they had much to be proud of. They came, they saw, they semi-conquered, and most importantly, they left happy.


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