Here to Win!
Photos: Henrick Maedler, WUDC
Bangladesh has been taking part in the World University Debating Championship since 1991. Since then, not once have we made it even to the quarter finals. This year, the students from Bangladesh University of Professionals, North South University, United International University, Islamic University of Technology and BRAC University decided that they had had enough of being the underdogs and that this year would be different. Indeed, it was.
Two young boys, Aaqib Farhan Hossain and Ratib Mortaza Ali, from BRAC University, have made sure that this year; they come out of the prestigious tournament with their heads held high and make our country proud. After WUDC Manila, this time during WUDC, Berlin it was the championship that Bangladesh was rooting for and it was the championship that they got.
“We arrived in Berlin on 28 December. We landed there past the arrival time and so, there were no volunteers to take us to our hotel. As expected, we got lost!” says Aaqib Farhan Hossain,” “We went to Berlin with a game plan, of being strong and robust, skipping socials and preparing instead.” Ratib Mortaza Ali says, adding that the harsh cold and unfamiliarity of Berlin was made better by the presence of numerous international debater friends.
Ratib Mortuza Ali & Aaqib Farhan Hossain during the final debate
World University Debate Championship is split into three days consisting of nine rounds. Sadly, round one had not gone as expected for the two young boys. “We lost a debate and ended the day with only four points. We had faced universities from New Zealand and the UK. It was quite upsetting but we jumped right back up in the next one where we faced Turkey, Japan and Cameroon. It was fun facing Japan in that round since our motion was 'This house believes that Japan should acquire nuclear weapons,'” says Aaqib.
In British Parliamentary format of debate, there are four teams facing each other, Opening Government, Closing Government, Opening Opposition and Closing Opposition. Among the four teams, they are ranked based on their performance. From the second day onwards, the boys started getting the rank they had desired- rank 1.
Throughout the tournament, they faced teams from Russia, Romania, Indonesia, the US, Ireland, Singapore and many others. “The third day of the tournament was a silent day. A silent day is when you do not know whether you have won or lost any of the rounds until the end of the day. So this was when it had turned absolutely nail-biting for us. We had three rounds on the day and we ranked two, three and two, respectively,” mentioned Aaqib.
New Year's Eve was when they had the break-night party, a social gathering where at the end of the night, 'breaking teams' who have made it to the next round, are announced. From the sixteen teams that broke into the quarter finals, the BRAC boys were the 14th. Aaqib was unfortunate enough to even catch a fever among all the hype but even that did not bring him down.
“We spent New Year in Dresden - it's this magical cultural artsy city that was reconstructed after the Allied Forces destroyed it during WW2. Then came the post break rounds, and they got easier. Easier, because we were in the ESL (English as a Second Language) breaks and having beaten the other team, we realised that beating ESL teams shouldn't be impossible,” said Ratib.
In the Quarter final, the boys faced the Netherlands and South Korea with the motion 'This house believes that public universities should cut down on the courses with low employment opportunities.' Since these were the knock-out stages, the boys had to make sure they were among the top two ranks and fortunately, they got rank 1.
“When we heard that we had gotten into the semi finals, everyone else was out partying. One of our mentors, Rishad Sharif said in his Facebook status- while we are out celebrating, the boys are up in their room, preparing. That was funny because that was probably the only time we weren't. We were in our room watching South Park!” says Aaqib.
The boys had enough confidence in them by then. “We felt amazing the day before the semifinal - we spent the night ironing the Bangladesh flag for the final even before the semi because we knew it wasn't impossible, and we came to Berlin with the goal of winning and we knew how big this would be,” says Ratib. They finished the semi-finals in Rank 1.
“Loke, Zheng Bo, Latif bhai- they all helped calm our nerves and kept reminding us our own motto - one debate at a time,” says Ratib, explaining how they dealt with the case of nerves.
The pressure was immense. Carrying the weight of the country on their young shoulders, the boys were nervous. And then the finals arrived. They faced two teams from Netherlands and one team from Israel. The motion was set, 'This house believes that representative democracies that have a significant number of foreigners living in their territory on a temporary or permanent basis should give them a seat in parliament' and the battle begun!
“First thought- this is such a uniquely Bangali problem!” says Aaqib. As he continues about the last thoughts during the final debate, he says, “We shut everything else out. We thought, 'we HAVE to win, at least for the sense of justice if not anything else. But we did face the toughest team of the tournament in that very debate, one from Netherlands. They were scary good.”
After the final battle, the chief adjudicator took on the stage. “This year's winner in the English as a Second Language Catergory at the World's Debating Championship, 2013, is” and he paused for five seconds. Those five seconds he looked the boys dead straight into the eyes. Heart pumping, nerves all over the place, a million and one thoughts in their minds, the boys were trembling with adrenaline and anxiety. He continued, “BRAC Bangladesh A, the closing government!” and the crowd went wild! The other Bangladeshi participants broke out into the patriotic song, 'Purbo Digonte' and the other international debaters joined in, humming along and cheering the boys on. They walked up to the stage, almost in denial to receive their prizes. “It hadn't even sunk in until we came back from the stage. The only thing I could think of was 'where is the flag' as we went to receive the award,” says Aaqib.
These two young ambitious individuals fulfilled the dreams of every young debater of our country and they could not have done it without each other. “Aaqib and I call ourselves a bad marriage with a successful enterprise. We are very different people, united for a common goal,” says Ratib, who also won the 'Darling of the Audience' award for his sensational speeches.
The boys came back with their heads held high indeed, a heart full on contentment, a lifetime of memories. But more than that, they came back with confidence and experience that will not only help them, the youth and the debating scene, but the whole nation. They wore their belief like a badge- we are Bangladesh and We are here to win.