Imagine making an argument about the right to privacy for 7 minutes straight in front of your computer screen in your pajamas on a regular Saturday night. That's been the norm for online debating ever since debating had transitioned online after covid 19.
Previously, it would be fiery speeches in front of a podium. While now, it's zoom calls at a tournament one would have otherwise not been able to afford on a regular weekend.
Increase of accessibility
With the debating community being more interconnected after the online transition, there have been numerous tournaments being hosted every weekend.
Institutions like Oxford, Princeton and Cambridge University have all hosted online versions of their flagship tournaments which would’ve been inaccessible offline. This has allowed more people from halfway across the world to access debate tournaments on a regular basis without significant financial and geographic limitations.
Sourodip Paul, who had won Cambridge University's flagship tournament Cambridge IV in 2020 and 2021, said, “I am one of those people who miss the days of offline debating because I miss hanging out with my friends from all over the world.”
“But even then, I have to admit that online debating makes it more accessible for talented debaters, especially from developing countries to take part in tournaments that they otherwise would not be able to,” added Sourodip.
He emphasised that online debating has done wonders for circuits that were previously not able to become a part of the global debating community.
Sourodip, currently studying in BRAC, previously attended the Institute of Business Administration, Dhaka University (DU) and Australian National University, was crowned the best speaker and champion of Australasian varsity debating championship – commonly labelled as 'Australs,' in 2020. That event was held online and he was the second ever Bangladeshi to have done that.
Judges are getting benefitted too
Along with the access to the debaters, online debating has also made tournaments more accessible for judges, especially from the developing world.
Shudipto Ahmed is currently studying at Dhaka University and is one of the most qualified judges of the English debating circuit. He has judged the open finals at Yale IV, ESL (English as a second language) finals at Cambridge IV and was a deputy chief adjudicator at SIDO Hanoi ABP, which is notably known as Asia's largest debating championship.
“Online debating has exposed me to many different styles and ways of judging. In terms of enriching my knowledge and judging philosophy, the access granted to me by online debating has been incomparable especially as I haven't been to places such as Oxford and Cambridge before,” shared Shudipto.
“As I do try to not burden my middle-class parents financially and face visa processing issues as every Bangladeshi, online debating has been a godsend for me,” he remarked.
As more debaters and judges get access to globally reputed tournaments through the advent of online debating, more strides are being made for the Bangladeshi English debating circuit as a whole.
The convenience of accessing a tournament from your desktop has also allowed many women to easily and safely access debating without parental restrictions.
The shift to online debating has also affected many debating clubs in terms of recruitment and hosting tournaments. Many clubs have experienced a fall in recruits because of the lack of socialisation that online debating provides.
However, many clubs have adjusted and made the experience exciting. Parinda Rahman, who is currently the Vice President of North South University Debating Club (NSUDC) and is one of the most well-decorated debaters of the circuit, noted, “Online debating has indeed been a completely new territory for us.”
“If I am being honest, it did come with the initially grim feeling of not being able to enjoy each other’s company in the club room or have exciting conversations. But when we started planning tournaments over discord and having online game nights, it was really a different kind of fun experience.”
While online debating isn't fully able to replace offline debating due to the vacuum of socialisation it leaves behind, it has made significant strides for the overall debating community, not only by creating access for more Bangladeshi debaters to break glass ceilings but also by paving new ways for people to network with other debaters globally.
While many debaters still await the return of regular offline tournaments, the change left behind by online debating will undoubtedly alter the way the sport functions as a whole.