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Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra take to the stage with their national flag at the beginning of tonight's dress rehearsal in Turin. DPA/PA Images
extended ban

Eurovision: Steps now being taken to remove Russia from future contests, EBU boss says

Noel Curran said it very quickly became apparent in the wake of the invasion that Russia couldn’t be allowed take part this year.

THERE’S A SET process that will be followed in terms of deciding where the Eurovision Song Contest is staged next year in the event that Ukraine win the final in Turin’s Pala Alpitour tomorrow night, the head of the European Broadcasting Union has said. 

Speaking to The Journal at the Eurovision press centre this afternoon, EBU Director General Noel Curran – who previously held the same role at RTÉ – also said it was unlikely Russia would take part in the 2023 contest as a process is under way to fully suspend its broadcasters from the organisation. 

Folk hip-hop act Kalush Orchestra are overwhelming favourites to claim the top prize for Ukraine tomorrow with their song Stefania. 

Written last year by frontman Oleh Psiuk as a tribute to his mother, the song – with its haunting refrain and nostalgic lyrics – has since taken on an outsized meaning in Ukraine. 

And given the focus on Ukraine since Russia’s February invasion – not to mention the number of Ukrainians who have been forced to flee their home country to other European nations – the entry is expected to generate a huge public vote tomorrow night. 

As a result bookies have made it odds-on to top the leaderboard – but the UK, Sweden, Italy and a host of others are also highly rated heading into the decider. 

In the normal course of events, whichever country wins the Eurovision also wins the right to host the contest the following year. 

But even in the most optimistic scenario, it’s unlikely Ukraine would be able to surmount the various safety and infrastructure challenges necessary to host the contest next year.

Curran said, however, that he was reluctant to be drawn on what might happen in 2023 as he didn’t want to pre-empt the voting process. 

To be honest I almost don’t want to comment on that because it sounds like we expect them to win. I actually don’t know who’s going to win, genuinely. People are expecting Ukraine to win but there is a huge backing for Italy, huge backing for the UK, Spain and a range of others.

A similar process takes place every year with the management of the winning entry’s national broadcaster, Curran said. 

“What we will do is – whoever wins – we will sit down with the director general and the management and we will say ‘how’s this going to work?’

We have milestones of criteria that have to be met by anyone in terms of where it’s going to be – venue, financing, safety – across all of these issues. We have milestones for everybody in terms of dates when certain milestones have to be met, and whoever wins we will sit down and go through it with them.

noel curran EBU Director General Noel Currran Daragh Brophy / Daragh Brophy / /

Russia, of course, were banned from competing in this year’s contest back in February. 

The question of how to respond to the country’s assault on its neighbour landed on Curran’s desk in the immediate aftermath the invasion, he said. 

The EBU initially came in for some criticism after releasing a statement on the first day of the war saying that Russia would remain in the contest as it was a ”non-political cultural event”.

The decision was reversed within the space of 24 hours. Over the course of the following days Russia was suspended or expelled from a host of other cultural and sporting events or competitions. 

“On the Russia decision we discussed it with the executive board – our executive board is made up of director generals from the big and smaller broadcasters around Europe, so I would have called the executive board meeting quickly to make the decision.

“During that time I would have rung around director generals to get a sense of where the membership were and what their view was and I would have brought that back to the executive board and then the executive board made the decision to suspend.”

The initial 24 February statement, Curran pointed out, said the EBU would monitor the situation. It soon became apparent to broadcasters across Europe, however, that the invasion had “changed everything”. 

“I think it was pretty clear to us that we wouldn’t be able to have Russia take part in the competition.

You can drag these things out and you can delay and delay them and then you end up making the decision and that looks like you’ve been forced into it. I think we were one of the first organisations to react in the kind of cultural or sport or sporting sphere.

The EBU – which is, essentially, an alliance of public service broadcasters from countries across Europe – is now taking steps to fully suspend Russia’s broadcasters from its activities.

The Russian broadcasters have been notified of the decision and it’s expected to be signed-off at an executive board meeting at the end of the month.

As a result, we’re unlikely to see a Russian contestant back at the Eurovision anytime soon.

“Obviously if they’re suspended they can’t and wouldn’t be able to take part.”

High expectations

The Eurovision is by far the biggest event in the EBU’s calendar – and expectations are high ahead of tomorrow night’s final after a bumper audience for the first post-Covid contest in Rotterdam last year. 

More than 183 million viewers tuned in last year and the contest has seen an explosion of interest on social media. There was also a significant increase in the number of 15- to 24-year-olds tuning in to watch on TV.

“I’m not sure people fully realise just how big a social media phenomenon it is,” said Curran, whose association with the contest began more than two decades ago when he served as executive producer for the 1997 show in Dublin.

The UK entry has 12 million TikTok followers. The Italian entry, their video on Youtube has already been viewed 55 million times – and that’s before the final.
So the viability of the contest is secure – it’s a much bigger event that’s growing every year.

The showpiece final tomorrow night represents the culmination of weeks of activity here at the massive Pala Alpitour venue and thousands of hours of work from the artists, crew and hosts. 

The all-important Jury Dress Rehearsal – where panels from each participating nation cast their votes – is taking place tonight.

There’ll be another full run-through of the show to iron out any final production kinks tomorrow afternoon, concluding just a few hours before the main event kicks off at 8pm Irish time. 

Daragh Brophy will be covering all things Eurovision from Turin up until the early hours of Sunday morning. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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