Sydney debaters conquer world

6 January 2017
Students claim World University Debating Championship

James Leeder and Emma Johnstone, never ones to shy away from good conversation and a healthy argument have taken out a prestigious world title.

In a weeklong event held in The Hague, combined Advanced Science degree students Leeder and Johnstone have won the World University Debating Championships convincingly with a score of 7-2. Taking on tough opponents, the Sydney University duo beat out Yale, Oxford and Bates students in the final.

Modelled on the British parliamentary system, the debate saw the pair take a government opening position. They had fifteen minutes to prepare their case for universal jurisdiction in relation to crimes against the environment.

Though Leeder said he had no preference to open or close the debate, historically there has been an overrepresentation for the opening government to take out top honours each year, so he was happy with this position.

The final results pends on a decision made by a panel of nine judges who in year’s past have taken up to four hours to come to a harmonious agreement. James reflects on this saying "given the whole debate is wrapped up in under an hour, that’s an incredibly long time. Fortunately on this occasion it only took about 45 minutes for a result to be announced".

Securing this win takes the University of Sydney's tally to seven championships in the competitions 37 year history. This is more than any other university globally. Demonstrating their impressive feat, the 2017 competition saw 250 universities compete from 90 countries. 

Meeting in 2011, Leeder and Johnstone have since created a formidable partnership competing at a number of events together. Their friendship and strength as a pair is a testament to the USU Debating society which they are members of. The society prides itself on a supportive, fun yet competitive environment, helping young debaters to thrive and get better. This is part of the society’s attraction for James and Emma as well as keen school leaving debaters.

Leeder took up debating initially due to a love of argument and quick thinking. “I like the idea of pushing yourself into high pressure situations. In international competition you only have 15 minutes to prepare an argument which forces you to think very quickly on your feet”.

“I also like the variability of the topics covered– they really can be derived from any subject area. Debating requires you to be widely read and stay informed. Of course at its core it’s a hobby I also get to participate in with my friends. I get to meet people through the society and from across the world at events”, he said.

It’s these qualities that Leeder has aquired through debating, that have him primed for a career in medicine, a program he will commence this year.  “The clinical environment and the practice of medicine require you to make judgements on your feet, you have to be able to process a high volume of information efficiently and you no doubt need exceptional communication skills”, he said.  

With Orientation Week fast approaching, there are plenty of clubs and societies at the University that create opportunities to meet new people, challenge yourself and enhance your career skills, just look at Leeder and Johnstone who are travelling the world with debating.

Congratulations to both on this fantastic result, as well as fellow USU Debating Society team members Evie Woodforde who was awarded fourth best speaker and Edward Miller who took out the Masters competition.