Every year in the months after Eurovision, countries like Slovakia, Luxembourg, and Kazakhstan are asked if next year will be the year they enter or re-enter Eurovision. Almost always, the answer is no. This is a shame, not only for us big fans who want as much music and competition as possible, but also for the contest itself. The reasons why bigger is better are varied, as are the reasons why countries can’t or don’t want to compete. So, why should Eurovision be bigger than ever, and how can the EBU make it happen?
The Eurovision Mission
Some reasons why a bigger Eurovision is a better Eurovision should be obvious. One of the key reasons why the contest started in the first place was to promote peace and cooperation in Europe. More participants means, obviously, more cooperation and a bigger cultural exchange. Also, more participants means more songs.
Now, not all of these songs and performances will be good, iconic, or memorable. But we do miss out on some classics. Luxembourg has sent in chansons that could give France a run for their money even today. Bosnia and Herzegovina competed with some stunning Balkan ballads. Montenegro has given us unforgettable performances. Andorra has had truly iconic non-qualifiers. And that is not even mentioning the songs we have been missing out on because of countries that would like to, but currently are not participating. Just look at the Junior Eurovision entries of Kazakhstan and Wales. Regardless of whether you like their songs or not, they definitely add to the contest as a whole. And, as Eurovision 2021 showed, the contest remains a massive platform that can truly kickstart a music career.
So, clearly plenty of reasons for everyone, from the EBU to its members to musical acts, to work towards a bigger ESC.
Fixing Andorra’s absence and Slovakia’s sabbatical
Of course, both the EBU and many countries are very much aware of all this Despite this, many countries don’t participate. A commonly mentioned problem is money, with the BHRT from Bosnia and Herzegovina, RTL from Luxembourg, and RTCG from Montenegro citing financial reasons as part of the reason why they can’t or don’t want to participate.
While for many smaller broadcasters participating is expensive, this doesn’t have to be an issue. For many broadcasters, being a part of Eurovision is actually relatively cheap. For countries such as The Netherlands, for example, the total cost of participating in 2016 averaged out to being the same price as the average hour of tv. Eurovision, being a massive TV event, brings big advertisement revenue with it. And the bigger and thus longer the contest, the more potential advertising revenue there is. It also is worth remembering that more participants could very well lead to even higher viewership numbers, as expats will surely want to tune in and see how their country does on the big night. So, making the richer broadcasters pay just a small amount more would not only improve the quality of the broadcast, but also the potential income of these broadcasters.
The membership problem
Other countries face other struggles with participation. Kazakhstan’s Khabar Agency is merely an associate member of the EBU and would, similarly to Australia’s ABC and SBS, need a special invitation to compete in the contest. Sending out such an invitation, or by making Khabar Agency or the previously interested Channel 31 a full EBU member, would resolve this. Similarly, Liechtenstein’s 1FLTV is not a member of the EBU yet either, although that partially is because of financial reasons. But, as I said above, the EBU could easily solve this.
Some readers will surely have noticed that I have not mentioned Hungary and Turkey. These countries have withdrawn, at least partially, for political reasons. And, of course, arguments against them returning to the contest because of their politics are strong. These arguments, that they are too oppressive, hostile to LGBTQIA+-individuals, illiberal, and so on, have merit. After all, Eurovision is an opportunity for the hosts and the contestants to show off their country in the best possible light. And these arguments can also be used against countries such as Kazakhstan. But many of the countries that continue to participate have similar problems. So, if this argument is applied consistently, we also should not let Poland, Russia, Georgia, and many others compete. This, of course, goes too far.
Besides, with Eurovision having become the Gay Olympics as some say, it can also be a tool for good. It is not at all uncommon to include same-sex kisses, dancers depicting a gay relationship, let alone the many LGBTQIA+ contestants. This has the power to normalize LGBTQIA+ individuals and relationships, making non-LGBTQIA+ people more tolerant whilst showing those who are that they are not alone. Distinct but similar arguments can also be made about other human rights issues. Joci Pápai and Manizha are just two examples of people taking to the Eurovision stage with important songs and messages, despite of everything going on in their respective home countries.
I don’t expect anyone arguing against Kazakhstan competing to be convinced by what I said. I am also less than enthusiastic about some non-participants returning as things stand. But I do think that the arguments in favor of participation for countries with less-than-ideal human rights records are at least as strong as the arguments against them competing. A good read about this complicated issue and the conflicting arguments and emotions it causes is this Medium post by Hazel Southwell, in which she talks about the complex issue of motorsport events being held in repressive countries such as Saudi Arabia.
TL;DR: It’s complicated, but the EBU should try and help more countries compete
With many countries, then, it is a complex issue. Spreading fees and costs differently might be a difficult sell, and arguments against the inclusion of some countries do have merit. But a bigger Eurovision is a better Eurovision. And that holds true for everyone, whether you are a viewer, one of the competing performers, a participating country, or the host nation. The EBU can and should make attempts to make this beautiful contest bigger and better than ever. And 2022 would be the perfect year for a big debut or return.
With Italy winning, we are likely to see a Grand Final with one less country than we have grown used to. Next year, then, would be the perfect year to give a new country a chance. Give a wildcard to the final to a country that has not participated before, like Kazakhstan or Liechtenstein. Or help Luxembourg compete again, as a celebration of winning 50 years ago. Maybe the BBC would be happy to see Scotland and Wales join as separate entrants, even if only to get (some extra) points on the board.
Whatever happens, 2022 will be another fantastic year for Eurovision. Let’s hope the experience gets shared with more countries than ever.
Photo source: EBU
What non-participants would you like to see perform at Eurovision? And what are your favorite songs from former contestants? Let us know in the comments below or on social media. Don’t forget to follow ‘THAT Eurovision Site’ over at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.