Thursday, August 1, 2019

Triumph Over Turbulence (NAMCO 2019)

Delay. Dengue. Drama.

On 20-21 July 2019, 28 teams battled out in the 8th edition of the Novice Arbitration Moot Competition (NAMCO).

University of Malaya (UM) has won the first 3 championships consecutively, but fell short in the last 4 editions (with two agonizing near misses as Runners-Up, including last year). The drive and pressure to recapture the trophy ran high.

This year's edition was even more special. Originally started out as a national competition in Malaysia, NAMCO has now expanded its regional reach. Joining the fray were 10 international teams from 5 universities and 4 countries (Singapore, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia).

This year, 3 teams from UM entered NAMCO (code-named Winter, Autumn, and Summer). Most universities sent 2 teams, including the host institution, University of MARA (UiTM). Our friendly neighbourhood rival, National University of Singapore (NUS), had the biggest contingent of 4 teams. Indeed, the field of competition has grown stiffer since 2012.

And after the storm passed, Team UM is crowned the Champion of NAMCO 2019!


Everyone is a winner

* * *

Winning the championship was the cake. But there were plenty of icing on top as well.

Team UM swept all the awards, and dominated the accomplishments:

Awards
  • Champion (Team Autumn)
  • Best Memorial (Team Autumn)
  • Best Oralist of General Rounds (Jacqueline Hannah Albert)
  • Best Oralist of Final (Jowena John)

Accomplishments
  • Most teams in the Top 8 of the General Rounds and advancing to the Quarter-Finals (all 3 teams!)
    • Summer (2nd)
    • Autumn (4th)
    • Winter (5th)
  • Most teams advancing to the Semi-Finals (2 teams)
  • Most mooters in the Top 10 Oralist of the General Rounds (4 oralists)
    • Jacqueline Hannah Albert (1st)
    • Saradha Lakshmi (2nd)
    • Serina Lim (4th)
    • Elisa Oyenz (8th)

No other university can boast to such an impeccable record, with NUS coming closest (Runners-Up, 1st ranked team in the General Rounds, 2 teams in the Top 8, 1 oralist in the Top 10).


* * *

Our voyage to victory wasn't smooth sailing, and constantly interrupted by Acts of God and high drama.

The moot was about late delivery of goods by sea from Malaysia to UK due to sea turbulence crippling businesses in Europe to a standstill (as to the cause of the turbulence - whether due to climate change, Kaizus ripping through the Pacific Rim, Brexit - the facts are mysteriously silent on this matter).

Ironically, the competition suffered from an unexpected delay as well.

For the past 7 seven editions, NAMCO has always been held around March. Hence, in anticipation of the moot problem to be out in late 2018, we auditioned and selected our teams in mid-November. Week passed. No news. We wrote to the organisers to inquire for details. But they couldn't give a definite details except vaguely indicating that the competition will likely be pushed back to Q3 of 2019 instead. Eventually, the competition schedule was confirmed on 31 January 2019.

Hence, for about 2 and half months, our mooters were left in the limbo, uncertain if the competition would even take place. Complicating matters was the eligibility rule in NAMCO allowing for only students who have never participated in an inter-varsity moot competition. This effectively meant that the mooters couldn't join any other moot competition until NAMCO had completed. As it wouldn't be fair to hold the students back indefinitely, we gave them a choice to stay or leave.

Two mooters decided that they couldn't wait, and withdrew to join other competitions to fast-track their moot experience level (such as the Malaysian Vis Pre-Moot in March). Hence, our numbers dwindled even before the competition even kicked off...


Autumn Foursome (minus one)

* * *

The next nasty surprise was the moot problem itself. The facts were vague and sketchy. For instance, the exact terms of the arbitration agreement were even omitted!

Simply put, the moot problem was loose and messy. Complicating matters was the fact that the clarifications was due to be released just 1 month (15 May) before the deadline for written submissions (17 June), and the rule that teams are bound by their written submissions. Also, the period in between coincided with the final exams for UM (and other universities as well, perhaps). This didn't leave teams much time to refine their written submissions.

As soon as the moot problem was released in 18 February, we wrote to the organisers pleading that the clarification release be brought forward earlier - to which they did... by 5 days (from 20 May to 15 May).

Anyway, the clarification wasn't much help in the end. Most of our pressing queries to fill in the factual gaps either went unanswered, or returned with cryptic responses. Here are some classic examples:

Is the arbitration agreement included in the contract? Irrelevant.

Is AIAC the seat of arbitration or venue of arbitration? Irrelevant.

Was the shipment actually made? Irrelevant.

Did the Claimant actually receive the goods? Irrelevant.

True enough, during the competition, even the judges seem frustrated and perplexed by the scarcity of facts. In the Final, the mooters' constant response that 'the facts are silent on this matter' became a running joke amongst everyone. After the moot ended, the presiding judge expressed sympathy on the dilemma faced by teams - on one hand, mooters should be 'creative' in inferring facts, but on the other hand, some judges may take objection to mooters making 'assumptions'.

Many of the rounds tipped towards confusion and chaos, thereby increasing the element of 'luck'.

* * *

Speaking of which, our teams really had a terrible string of 'bad luck'.

A mooter from all our teams fell seriously ill during the days leading up to the competition. 2 mooters actually contracted dengue - one of whom had to fly home and missed the competition completely!

During the General Rounds, both the Claimant and Respondent sides of each team mooted simultaneously. This meant that there must be 4 mooters fit to speak. Any team with an absent member automatically forfeited the match.

Hence, the days before the competition was filled with panic and despair. The sick mooters missed training. The rest just had to keep on practising and praying. Team Autumn had 5 members, and could still afford losing one member.

But the worst hit was Team Summer. With only 4 members, they had no substitutes. Their dengue-stricken comrade bravely soldiered on the General Rounds (otherwise, they will automatically lose 2 matches and be eliminated), whilst the others stepped up to cover his role during the Advanced Rounds.

And despite such adversity, Team Summer won all 4 matches in the General Rounds, finished as the 2nd ranked team in the General Rounds, and reached the Semi-Finals.


Summertime Sadness (feat. dengue)

* * *

Towards the end, we were nearly denied a victory by the most cruel of twists - wrong announcement of advancing teams!

When the Top 8 teams of the General Rounds were first announced, only two of our teams made the cut... but not Team Autumn. The mooters were dumbfounded. It felt like by being struck by a sudden tsunami. Their heads slumped and hearts sank like a sinking ship...

My pulse was racing, and time was ticking...

In less than an hour, the Quarter-Finals would begin. The organisers proceeded to announce the match-ups. The advancing teams were called for the coin-toss and exchange of memorials.

No, something was wrong. Based on my rough calculations from the scoresheets of the General Rounds, Team Autumn had a higher raw score than Team Winter (both had 3 wins). It's not mathematically possible for Team Winter to advance, but not Team Summer.

Quickly, I asked the team to re-calculate the scores and check the scoresheets. Our calculation was correct. But in one scoresheet, a judge had erroneously filled up the scores wrongly (our team's score was switched with the opponent), but made a note of clarification. Whoever entered our scores may have missed the note.

We rushed to the organiser to request for a review of the scores. And true enough, they added up our scores wrongly!

A revised announcement of the Top 8 teams was made - with Team Autumn rightly advancing into the Quarter-Finals.

A final shout-out to Team Winter. They had the misfortune of meeting Team Autumn twice - they won in the General Rounds, but lost in the Quarter-Final. In short, the only team which defeated our champion team was our own team!


Winter is coming...

* * *

To briefly recap the force majeure events that Team UM had to navigate and brave through from start to finish:
  • Inordinate delay in competition (causing some of our restless crew to abandon ship)
  • Messy moot problem (causing many judges to be bewildered)
  • Sickness (causing Team Autumn to lose 1 member a week before the competition, and a member in Team Summer to keep mooting despite being down with dengue)
  • Administrative error (nearly causing Team Autumn, the eventual Champion, to miss out advancing to the Quarter-Final)

Such a whirlwind makes our awards and accomplishments even more sweeter at the end of our voyage. Even after being 'handicapped', our teams still managed to clinch victory and perform well. Imagine how much more dominating we would have been if our teams were at full strength...

Of course, turbulence can strike anyone - it's entirely possible that other teams also face their own share of challenges behind the scenes. Ultimately, mooting is about fighting your inner demons as much as overcoming your worthy opponents - that's the lesson that all of us can draw from our triumphant tale.

Bad luck? Irrelevant.

For those who are truly great, no amount of turbulence, tribulation and trauma can stop you from triumphing...


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