World Schools Debating Championships

While it is the Convenor's responsibility to ensure that the draw is released in a timely manner, the Chief Adjudicator and his/her team will usually bear the brunt of the work in determining it.

Seeded draws[]

The World Council Meeting in 2001 considered formalising the system for determining the draw, and decided that “a fixed system was not appropriate”. However, at the Meeting in 2003, the Executive was asked to look into “formalising the draw for each year’s Championships.”

The only written requirements in the rules of the competition that are relevant to creating preliminary round pairings is that the convenor use “a system to achieve approximately equal and fair sets of opponents for all teams.” This has been taken to mean that the draw for the eight preliminary rounds should not be entirely random. On top of this rather open rule a number of unwritten requirements have been adopted by subsequent convenors (or increasingly, in the past few years, Chief Adjudicators). Each new convenor/CA team, possibly with input from the CAP, chooses to take it upon themselves to abide by these accrued traditions, and compliance with them is self-regulated. The requirements as they informally exist at present, and as they have been understood and applied in all draws since 1999 (except 2000), are:

a) Teams get roughly the same number of stronger and weaker opponents from a ranking of nations based on the historical performances of nations’ previous teams from the past three years (all of which concepts are far from simple and are examined in more detail below);

b) Teams get an equal number of propositions and oppositions, both overall and within the four prepared motions and four impromptu motions, as far as is possible;

c) Teams do not debate the same team twice in the eight preliminary rounds.

In addition the creators of the draw are constrained by the necessity of grouping the ties for each pair of morning and afternoon debates (for example, rounds one and two, or rounds five and six) in such a way that teams will be sent to their venue in groups containing that team’s opponents for both the morning and afternoon debates. For venues hosting only a small number of debates (perhaps as few as two debates, or four teams) that constraint can lead to a team’s afternoon opponent being entirely determined once their morning opponent is fixed.

Round Zero[]

If there are an uneven number of teams at the competition – which may not be known until the last minute if a team drops out – then an extra round needs to be held, commonly known as “Round Zero” (and as a “Bye Round” in the past).

With uneven teams, one team will sit out of each main preliminary round. Those eight teams are then paired off against each other in a separate round, held in a gap in the timetable. Round Zero will have a different impromptu motion which the Motions Committee will have determined in advance.

Vetoing opponents?[]

Some years have seen teams express unhappiness at being asked to debate certain other teams, for example should their two countries not recognise each other, or are currently at war, etc.

This is clearly a sensitive issue and we’re understanding of the pressure that may be brought to bear on a team by their government or public. (In practice the individuals themselves aren’t usually the instigators of such a preference).

However, the WSDC Charter demands that any participating team is prepared to debate any other participating team. So Kuwait and Pakistan, for example, must be prepared to debate Israel if the draw (or the break) says that they should. A CA making the draw should not make any allowances to avoid such a pairing. Teams are fully aware of the commitment they have made to the Charter before they attend.

That said, there may be areas we as organisers can help defuse the situation: for example, in one recent year when Kuwait was paired with Israel in a round, we agreed not to publish the pairing on the World Schools website (although naturally the draw was published via the WSDC mailing list). In small instances like this we have flexibility to minimise any unwelcome impact in home countries.


The final factor to consider is how the debates are organised at schools and which teams can physically debate against others. A common model for a day’s debating is that four or six teams are sent to a school and paired off in the morning; in the afternoon, a team debates against another team that was already at that school. The CA therefore needs to know how the debates will be divided amongst schools.

It may be possible to transfer a team to another school between rounds, by taxi or other means, but generally a draw should aim to get them in the right place for the day.

Some days make the draw easier, for example if all teams are at the same venue for an entire day. This allows flexible re-pairing and may be the best way to make the draw balance. It also significantly reduces the stress on teams, judges and organisers having to travel between venues, usually at or around lunchtime and hoping to make it on time. Some schools like to present a welcoming ceremony for debaters which should be encouraged but an elaborate welcoming ceremony by an afternoon host prior to an impromptu debate might place time pressures on all concerned. One ceremony in the morning at one venue so that debaters can “get stuck in” to debating after lunch is preferable.

How to produce the draw[]

James Probert, CA in Athens in 2009, has written a guide to the draw with an accompanying spreadsheet, designed to make life easier for incoming CAs. You can get a copy by emailing through the English-Speaking Union (visit the ESU site here).

When to release the draw[]

Convenors will know how early, or late, they can set a cut-off point for registrations for the tournament, and may have an idea of how likely it is that some teams will be decide to pull out (which can continue to happen sometimes up until the last moment). CAs should work closely with a convenor to ensure that on the one hand, the creation of the draw does not unnecessarily prevent late registering teams from taking part, or that swing teams have to be created to simulate teams who have dropped out after the draw has been released, as it cannot be redrawn after that point without becoming almost mathematically impossible, given the restriction of the rules that “if a team withdraws after the draw has been sent to the teams, the host may make a new draw only if (a) to do so would not alter the sides or topics for any team or (b) if all teams affected by the new draw agree”; and on the other hand the draw can be released as early as possible to help teams prepare.

In some years the draw has only been published when the teams arrive at the tournament. This is unpopular, as they have to be prepared to debate both sides. Except where it is necessary, it should be discouraged, and a good convenor should be able to confirm participating teams with a high degree of certainty by one or two weeks before the tournament, and have the ability to create swing teams in the event of an emergency.