Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has been banned from making an address at the final of the Eurovision Song Contest.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which produces the event, said it had declined Mr Zelensky’s request to speak on Saturday over fears it could politicise the contest. He had wanted to make an unannounced video appearance and had been expected to implore the global audience of millions to continue backing his country in its fight to repel Russian invaders.
The EBU said Mr Zelensky had “laudable intentions” but “regrettably” his request was against the rules. On Friday, Rishi Sunak said he was “disappointed” by the decision.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister believes it would be fitting for President Zelensky to address the event and we’re disappointed by the decision from the European Broadcasting Union. The values and freedoms that President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine are fighting for are not political, they’re fundamental, and Eurovision themselves recognised that last year when they rightly suspended Russia’s participation from the competition.”
There are no plans to intervene and ask organisers to change their mind, Downing Street suggested. Former prime minister Boris Johnson said “it would have been right to hear from” Mr Zelensky during the final. Writing on Twitter, he added: “There is only one reason the contest is not in Ukraine and that is because of Putin’s illegal war.”
In its statement on Thursday, the EBU noted that 11 Ukrainian artists, including last year’s winners Kalush Orchestra, are performing and 37 locations from around Ukraine are being shown. The BBC has said the broadcast of this year’s contest is expected to be watched by more than 160 million viewers worldwide.
BBCEurovision commentators Rylan Clark and Scott Mills stressed the contest is non-political. Clark said: “At the end of the day we are commentators so we don’t get involved in show format. I just think Eurovision, people say it is political – votes here, votes there. From being on the inside it is the least political experience you could ever have, actually.”
Radio DJ Mills added: “People always ask, ‘Do you think it is political?’. It really isn’t. It is a song contest.” Clark continued: “It is a song contest and that is what we are here to say.”
Kalush Orchestra won last year’s contest but, owing to the Russian invasion of the country, hosting duties were awarded to the runner-up, the UK.
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