Dark horse pulls off an emphatic win

From http://www.singtao.com/debate/index_e_oldnews021.html in《The Student Standard》12 May, 2006

AFTER nearly six months of cut-and-thrust debating, the ultimate winner of the 21st Sing Tao Inter-School Debating Competition finally triumphed in the grand final on 5 May.

Rather a dark horse until the middle of this year’s championship, South Island School (SIS) crushed the dreams of Ying Wa Girls’ School, last year’s 1st runner-up, to triumph in the 2006 championship after the two-time defending champion St. Joseph’s College, Hong Kong was knocked out in the preliminary round.

The organisers of the grand final of the championship invited Fanny Law, Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower, to share her views on the virtues of debating.

“Debating can nurture not only students’ critical thinking ability but also their listening skills, since debaters have to focus on the important points of the arguments to respond. Also students need to deeply analyse and understand the motion,” Law said.

She also reminded students’ of the crucial art of debating, which is not merely to persuade opponents with rhetoric, but with well-founded reasoning too.

The motion put forward in the competition between the two finalists was ‘The Hong Kong Jockey Club’s betting duty reform creates more harm than benefits’. South Island School defended the motion, while Ying Wa Girls’ School objected.

The South Island Year-12 captain Rachel Ng commenced proceedings by arguing that the amendment bill, currently in Legco, to reform the club’s betting duty, would provide more incentive to encourage gambling, such as the club’s promise for a rebate system and of higher payouts. Therefore, once enacted, it will create more moral and social problems.

She also cited the current practice of taxing profit from the club’s soccer bets as an example to justify their standpoint, since under the bill gambling on horses would follow suit instead of taxing on turnover.

“Soccer betting has exploded in Hong Kong and is taxed on its profit, not turnover, but it still continues to attract a vast amount of illegal bets,” she said. She also questioned how the new tax regime for horse racing would combat illegal betting when it failed to do so for soccer betting.

Confronting arguments to support the motion by their rivals, Ying Wa girls’ debaters, led by Form Six captain Mona Chu, rebutted immediately in their opening speech by saying that the affirmative side should prove the harm they mentioned stems from the reform and will happen after the reform comes into force.

They pointed out that the Hong Kong Jockey Club is a government- authorised exclusive bookmaker in Hong Kong and has a social responsibility to offer regulated and legal betting. Chu also countered the South Island team’s position by saying that the club’s role as the biggest taxpayer and second largest charity sponsor is evidence that the motion was not justified.

In rebuttal, the South Island team raised the UK’s experience of taxing on gross profit rather than turnover for general betting. They reasoned that after the introduction of the new tax system, betting volumes in the country quadrupled for three years, which implies that more people were engaged in gambling and that in turn, created social harm, especially affecting the young and families.

They also cited a survey report by Hong Kong Gambling Watch, which reveals that the number of students participating in football gambling has increased by 51 percent a year.

“Of the students who placed bets, 76 percent placed bets with the Hong Kong Jockey Club and a huge 25 percent have been classified as problem gamblers,” said the first speaker of South Island School.

In face of forceful arguments that urged a reflection on the basic problems arising from gambling, the Ying Wa girls were adept at changing the focus to the rationale behind the amendment bill.

“The first objective of the bill is to combat illegal bookmaking,” said the first speaker of Ying Wa Girls’ School Tiffany Ting, a Form Six student. “We are not so naive as to think that the reform is to eliminate all of the illegal bookies, who always exist. But it is the club’s social responsibility not to make the situation worse,” Ting said.

“But at least the club should be given a fighting chance to combat illegal bookmakers .”

Prakash Sanker, the second speaker for South Island, questioned the bill’s objective to combat illegal bookmaking as illegal bookies were outside of the laws and are always flexible. He also doubted the rationale behind the reform.

“The betting duty reform states that it aims to snap up 10 to 20 percent [of the amount of bets] from illegal bookmakers every year. This will only return HK$10 billion back to the club’s pocket. What is the point?” Sanker said.

The winning team, South Island School, was awarded a HK$12,000 Centaline scholarship from Centaline Property Agency.

Hong Kong International School and St Paul’s Co-Educational College, second runners-up, were awarded HK$4,000 each.

The adjudicator Claudia Mo, a media expert, commented that the South Island School debating team started the competition at a disadvantage as, “It is more difficult to prove the invisible harm of the bill, which is currently still in LegCo, while the benefits are already seen,” she said.

Lee Shek Yuk-yu, the principal of Ying Wa Girls’ School, praised the performances of her debaters since English is not their mother tongue and it was not easy for them to speak fluently.

“With the fact that modern youngsters are more self-centred, debating is an activity that can help students see things from different perspectives. It also requires debaters to have a strong sense of current affairs,” Lee said.

South Island School’s principal John Wray, said he, in addition to appreciating both teams’ performances, believes the team benefited from the atmosphere, which already prevails within the school.

“There is an atmosphere promoting public speaking and debating at the school since students debate in classrooms in both formal and informal ways,” Wray said.

For South Island School’s debating team captain Rachel Ng, the victory was doubled as she was hailed as the best speaker of the English section in the grand final. As she told the Student Standard, there are some dos and don’t in debating.

 ”One of the dos in debating is to know how to deconstruct your own arguments, while the don’ts are not to be nervous otherwise you won’t enjoy the debate,” Ng said.

The 21st Sing Tao Inter-School Debating Competition was organised by Sing Tao Daily, The Standard and the Education and Manpower Bureau and sponsored by Centaline Property Agency.