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Bambie Thug alongside Lithuania's Silvester Belt at the post-show press conference on Tuesday night. Alamy Stock Photo

RTÉ Eurovision chief: If we withdraw that's the end of the Olympics, the end of the World Cup

Pulling out of Eurovision was never something that was considered, Michael Kealy said.

THE SENIOR RTÉ producer tasked with overseeing Ireland’s Eurovision entry has said withdrawing from this year’s contest was never something that was considered by the broadcaster. 

Michael Kealy, who has served as Head of Delegation for Ireland in the contest for over a decade, said that if a decision was made to withdraw it could set a precedent that put participation in other international events, including major sporting contests, at risk.

“We’re a public service broadcaster – we don’t take political stands on issues when it comes to things like this. The BBC don’t. French television don’t … no public service broadcaster in Europe would,” Kealy said, speaking to reporters at the delegation hotel in Malmö.

“If we withdraw from it that’s the end of the Olympics, that’s the end of the Euros, that’s the end of the World Cup – all the fun in our lives would be taken away.”

Campaigners have called on RTÉ and its act in this year’s contest, Bambie Thug, to pull out of this year’s Eurovision due to the presence of Israel in the lineup. The European Broadcasting Union, which produces the Eurovision each year, has said that to exclude Israel would be a political act and that the contest has always been non-political. 

Bambie Thug, who qualified from the semi-finals on Tuesday night and is set to compete in the final on Saturday, has said they stand with those calling for a boycott but plan to stay in the competition to act as a pro-Palestine voice.

Speaking earlier in the week, the singer said they had been subjected to hateful comments online in the buildup to the Eurovision. A number of pro-Gaza performers within the Irish music industry have called on campaigners not to direct their criticism at the competitor and to instead focus their attention on RTÉ and the EBU.

“Look at the end of the day this is a song contest,” Kealy said today. 

“I think it’s very unfair to put pressure on artists to the extent that Bambie has had to endure over the last few months. 

“Some of the abuse that’s been directed at them has been pretty vile to be perfectly honest. I don’t think there’s a place for that. I don’t think it does a service either to the cause of the people who are sending that kind of stuff.”

Asked about the singer’s chances of winning the final on Saturday, Kealy said:

“I always thought Bambie had what it takes to get to the final and now that we’re in the final I think that they have what it takes to win.

“Our act is so different, so unique – it’s clearly not everyone’s cup of tea judging by what you read online but you can’t ignore it. You absolutely can’t ignore it. 

He added: “I think they’re going to be a global star no matter what happens here on Saturday.”

A number of delegations, including the Irish one, are staying at a large hotel in the city itself. The arena is out in the suburbs. There’s a heightened security presence at both locations and throughout the city this week. A circling police helicopter is a constant presence. 

A major pro-Palestine protest is taking place elsewhere today, with another one planned for Saturday. 

“It is a bit of a fortress here,” Marty Whelan, who’s marking 25 years in the commentary box for RTÉ at the contest this week, noted.  

“There are drones here at nighttime. There are police and army around here constantly. There are armed police walking around the venue. The security at this event is taken very seriously.”

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Whelan was in the commentary box last night at the arena as an ‘as live’ dress rehearsal of the semi-final show took place. The Israeli singer’s performance was met with significant booing and shouting, footage filmed within the venue showed.

The broadcaster said that “of course” he would note anything unplanned that was taking place during the contest. 

“I have never ignored what I see,” he said. “Of course if there’s reaction one will react. I hope it just goes smoothly and people just get on with what they have to do.”

The Netherlands, Norway and one of the favourites, Switzerland, will be among 16 acts competing alongside Israel tonight for the remaining ten places in Saturday’s final.

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