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UK asked to host Eurovision in 2023, Ukraine asks for more time to prepare

By | Published on Monday 20 June 2022

Ukraine win Eurovision 2022

The European Broadcasting Union has said that it plans to begin discussions with the BBC about hosting next year’s Eurovision Song Contest, after deciding that it will not be possible to stage the event in this year’s winning country, Ukraine.

While many in the UK have welcomed this news, it has also proven controversial, with Ukraine’s Culture Minister Tkachenko Oleksandr and British Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson both saying that Ukraine should be given more time to confirm how it could stage the show. The problem, of course, is that Ukraine is at war with Russia, and there is no clear sign when that could end.

Following Ukraine’s win in May, the country’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement: “Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe! Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision! For the third time in its history. And I believe not the last. We will do our best to one day host the participants and guests of Eurovision in Ukrainian Mariupol. Free, peaceful, rebuilt! Thank you for winning [Kalush Orchestra] and everyone who voted for us! I am sure that our victorious chord in the battle with the enemy is not far off”.

However, in a statement on Friday, the EBU said that the Eurovision show is only ever allowed to be hosted in a country that can provide guarantees on “certain criteria” including “the safety of all stakeholders”. Given the long lead time required on organising the show, the organisation says, Ukraine has been unable to provide these assurances and, as a result, “next year’s Contest cannot be held in Ukraine”.

“It has become a well-known tradition that the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest hosts the competition the following year, providing certain criteria including ensuring the viability of staging the event and the safety of all stakeholders, including the public, are met”, said the EBU. “Given the ongoing war since the Russian invasion of this year’s winning country, the EBU has taken the time to conduct a full assessment and feasibility study with both [Ukrainian broadcaster] UA:PBC and third-party specialists including on safety and security issues”.

“The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the most complex TV productions in the world with thousands working on, and attending, the event and twelve months of preparation time needed”, it went on. “Following objective analysis, the Reference Group, the ESC’s governing board, has with deep regret concluded that, given the current circumstances, the security and operational guarantees required for a broadcaster to host, organise and produce the Eurovision Song Contest under the ESC Rules cannot be fulfilled by UA:PBC”.

“As a result of this decision”, it concluded, “in accordance with the rules and to ensure the continuity of the event, the EBU will now begin discussions with the BBC, as this year’s runner up, to potentially host the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest in the United Kingdom. It is our full intention that Ukraine’s win will be reflected in next year’s shows. This will be a priority for us in our discussions with the eventual hosts”.

The BBC followed this with a statement saying that while “these aren’t a set of circumstances that anyone would want” it “will of course discuss the BBC hosting the Eurovision Song Contest”.

Although the EBU’s statement made it very much sound like its decision regarding where the 2023 Contest will be held was final, there have subsequently been some calls for a rethink.

Ukraine’s Culture Minister Tkachenko Oleksandr said in a statement following the EBU’s announcement: “Ukraine does not agree with the nature of such a decision – when we were confronted with the fact without discussion on other options. But we strongly believe that we have every reason to hold further negotiations in order to find a joint solution that will satisfy all parties”.

“We honestly won Eurovision and have fulfilled all the conditions within the deadlines for the process approving its holding in Ukraine – we have provided answers and guarantees on safety standards and possible venues for the competition”, he continued. “Hosting Eurovision 2023 in Ukraine is a strong signal to the whole world that it supports Ukraine now”.

“We will demand to change this decision, because we believe that we will be able to fulfil all the commitments, as we have repeatedly emphasised it to the European Broadcasting Union”, he finished. “That is why we demand additional negotiations on hosting Eurovision 2023 in Ukraine”.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also urged the EBU to reconsider, telling reporters as he returned from an impromptu visit to Ukrainian capital Kyiv: “The Ukrainians won the Eurovision Song Contest. I know we had a fantastic entry, I know we came second and I’d love it to be in this country. But the fact is that they won and they deserve to have it. I believe that they can have it and I believe that they should have it. I believe Kyiv or any other safe Ukrainian city would be a fantastic place to have it”.

However, elsewhere, in an article published in The Times on Saturday on the military situation in Ukraine, Johnson wrote that “we need to steel ourselves for a long war” in the country, reckoning that Russian President Vladimir Putin is resorting to a campaign of attrition, “trying to grind down Ukraine by sheer brutality. Time is the vital factor”, he added. “Everything will depend on whether Ukraine can strengthen its ability to defend its soil faster than Russia can renew its capacity to attack. Our task is to enlist time on Ukraine’s side”.

That gloomy prediction suggests that Ukraine hosting next year’s Eurovision isn’t necessarily a realistic ambition. Nevertheless, a spokesperson for Ten Downing Street reiterated that “as the rightful winner the government’s firm wish has been to see next year’s Contest hosted” in Ukraine.

However, they added: “If the EBU decides the competition can’t go ahead in Ukraine we would of course welcome the opportunity to work closely with Ukraine and the BBC to host it here in the UK. But we would be committed to ensuring it overwhelmingly reflects Ukraine’s rich culture, heritage and creativity, as well as building on the ongoing partnership between our two countries”.

Several British cities have already expressed an interest in hosting the event should it come to the UK, including Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The latter was backed with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said in a tweet: “We wish Eurovision could be in Ukraine but understand that in circumstances this isn’t possible. However, I can think of a perfect venue on banks of the River Clyde! [The Scottish government] is happy to discuss with BBC, [Glasgow City Council, the EBU] and more”.

Whether or not the EBU can be convinced to give Ukraine more time to shore up its position remains to be seen. The country has hosted the Contest amid tensions before.

It was staged in Kyiv in 2017, three years after Russian annexed Crimea. Russia complained that Ukraine had won in 2016 with a song about its military action in the region, thus breaking the competition’s ‘no politics’ rule. But Ukraine argued successfully that the song – ‘1944’ – was about an entirely different Russian military action in Crimea and had not relation to what had gone on more recently.

In the end, Russia did not take part in that year’s Contest, after Ukraine threatened to arrest Russian performer Julia Samoilova if she entered the country, as she appeared on a blacklist of artists who had recently performed in Crimea.

Tensions then, of course, had not developed into a country-wide military conflict, which meant Ukraine was able to satisfy the EBU’s safety concerns.