Editorial: Discussing Australia’s participation in Eurovision

This week saw the publishing of all 43 nations who would compete in the 62nd Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv, Ukraine. While we had to unfortunately say goodbye to Bosnia and Herzegovina for the time being, we’re celebrating the return of both Romania and Portugal to the Contest after a year’s break. However, one country’s name set off a powder keg of controversy within both the fandom and the observant alike; the inclusion of Australia for a third year running. Its sheer mention on the list of participating countries unleashed a wave of anti-Australian sentiment from fans and seems to have divided the community in two. So I wanted to investigate – *why* does Australia’s participation stir up so much emotion?

To give a little backstory; Australia began to broadcast the Eurovision Song Contest back in 1983 in Munich. The Contest quickly amassed a following soon after, presumably as a result of cultural ties between Australia and Europe. Australia was never really regarded in the eyes of the Eurovision, although the odd hat tilt or mention was thrown into the script to acknowledge the tradition that the Australian broadcaster – SBS – had kept going. This changed in 2013, when SVT gave SBS the opportunity to send a little greeting to Europe – led by commentator Julia Zemiro -to let them know they’re still paying attention to the glorious show that is Eurovision. This was stepped up again in 2014 to an interval act performance of “Sea of Flags” by Jessica Mauboy, which essentially summed up Eurovision as a whole – the idea of coming together and representing your nation in the ‘sea of flags’. Everything was going great!

Then, the 2015 Eurovision came along and it was finally revealed that Australia would compete in the 60th anniversary of the Contest as a guest. Fans were immediately divided on whether the EBU were traitors to the cause, or benevolent organisers of an inclusive gathering. Despite the division and the rather uncouth remarks certain fans made, Guy Sebastian delivered a very respectable fifth place for the Land Down Under in Vienna. For many fans, that was that and we wouldn’t hear anything about Australia afterwards. Exceeeept that wasn’t the case, and in November of 2015, Australia formally confirmed participation for the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 in Stockholm. From the get-go, some fans were outraged, citing that it was meant to be a once-off participation. As we all know, however, this did little to influence the EBU’s decision and Australia had another absolutely fantastic year, placing second with Dami Im’s “Sound of Silence”. And now, with SBS confirming participation in Kyiv for a third year, there seems to be as big a divide as ever within the fandom.

So, why is the community so divided over the mere participation of a country in a singing competition? The main point of contention for so-called “Anti-Ozzies” can be seen in many comments put up in Eurovision groups:

Australia “steals” places in the grand final. They are ABSOLUTELY not in Europe’s map. Two participations and always very good results. Why? Because of money and the audience. There are so much very good European countries like Czech Republic, San Marino, Switzerland, Slovenia, … who have difficulties to qualify every year. And that’s a pity. Eurovision is a European Contest. We don’t need Australia the Contest, but okay, if they are invited to sing during an interval act.     – Madreselva, Switzerland

NOOOOOOOOOO! AUSTRALIA IS NOT EUROPE!     – Santi, Spain

The EBU should take care of Romania, Andorra and so on to make European countries interested in participating and avoid leaving those countries out of Eurovision. But instead of that, the EBU is taking on the whole world, forgetting about European countries!!      – Egor, Russia

As you can see, the main theme running through arguments against Australia competing at Eurovision is that “Australia is not in Europe” and other variations of that statement. Now, for a normal person, you would be right in saying that because yes – geographically, Australia is roughly 12,000 kilometres to the nearest competing nation; Israel. However, listen to this explanation of the origin of the word ‘Eurovision’ by George Campey, the word’s so-called ‘inventor’.

Let’s make it clear that the word ‘Eurovision’ was the name given to the supranational television corporation and not the Song Contest itself. Therefore, the theory that with the inclusion of Australia will turn the Eurovision Song Contest into the “Worldvision” Song Contest is entirely redundant, as it the essentially the ‘Song Contest of the Eurovision (television network)’ as Ben Charles Gray beautifully illustrates in his 2015 Edition of his ‘Eurovision Wipe’. Anti-Ozzies also argue that Australia steals another country’s spot in the final. This is refutable in both years; in 2015, Australia did not need to qualify for the final in order to compete, thus bringing the total number of finalists to a rather enormous 27. In 2016, Australia was formally incorporated into the semi-final system and comfortably won the semi-final by a 43 point margin and essentially lost to Jamala by a margin of 23 points in the Grand Final. This proved the popularity of “Sound of Silence” and essentially showed that Australia has the capability to produce a potentially winning song.

Those who support Australia’s participation in Eurovision, on the other hand, champion the country’s strong attempts to win the Contest. Australia currently have the best track record after two attempts; with two top-five finishes, one of which earning a silver medal, it can be said that Australia have taken the competition seriously since entering the competition. It is also shown that Ozzie can have the potential to win the Contest and host the show, in collaboration with another European broadcaster to keep the show in Europe. Many fans have suggested that SBS would be able to produce a high-quality, high-octane show, injecting some energy into the show  à la Stockholm 2016 and give fans a Contest to remember. Fans also praise Australia’s enthusiasm and love for the show and say that the country’s participation is totally justified given the 34 year background of broadcasting the competition, as well as the cultural ties with Europe historically. There’s a plethora of other reasons that can be given to back up both sides; however, I’ve chosen to take up the main points of contention between the Anti-Ozzies and the Pro-Ozzies.

So, what can we do? Honestly, not a lot. It makes no difference whether you fall on the anti-Australia side or the pro-Australia side, Australia will be taking part in Kyiv in next year and will no doubt be out for vengeance after Dami narrowly missed out on taking the trophy home to Sydney. However, there will always be differences of opinion on whether Australia should be allowed to take part in Eurovision every year. If it’s any consolation to the Anti-Ozzies, Australia’s invitation to participate in Europe’s favourite TV show is subjective to the Eurovision Reference Group’s decision every year, so at any moment, Australia’s place in the competition could disappear. Conversely, if it’s any consolation to Pro-Ozzies, at least it’s one more song to either like/love or hate! So there are pros and cons to having a so-called “non European” country in Eurovision, but hey aren’t there pros and cons to all aspects of our beloved Contest?

So what do you think? Is there any logical reason for Australia (not) to participate in Eurovision as a permanent member? Should we force Australia never to participate again? And does the new wording of Associate EBU Members open the door for countries like Kazakhstan, China or the United States to join the party? We would love to find out what you think about this, so do us a favour and leave your opinions in the comments section below! And also, vote in our poll to make your voice heard! We’d love to know how people think on this highly divisive issue! And also, stay tuned to ESC Views as we follow Australia’s journey to KYIV!

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2 thoughts on “Editorial: Discussing Australia’s participation in Eurovision”

  1. Ok you need to get your facts straight and not pepetuate the myth that Eurovision has had a massive following since 1983. First of all, SBS’ ‘ charter since its incepton has been to provide culturally relevant TV. Eurovision was deemed to belong in this category. SBS could not be widely received throughout Australia for at least 10 years, reception even in the capital cities was shoddy. Most peple watching SBS were immigrants like myself and their offspring, Inspektor Rex featuring high on our watch list.
    Up to ten years ago , when my children were in School their class mates had not heard of Eurovision. In fact my daughter explained that the largest and longest running music competition was Eurovision. SBS still makes fun of Eurovision in its ads. Last year, the free to air ratings war was won by a cooking show , whilst SBS came in last yet again but had improved the numbers but not quite as expected.. It is trendy, and has become trendy in the past 4 or 5 years to say you watch Eurovision. Of course, if Australia looks like it may win, this tends to draw an even greater audience. There is no denying that this was definitely a commercial deal between SBS and EBU. SBS now has to bring in its own revenu, rather than relie on public funding. So advertising dollars are at stake, whilst EBU gains from the money Australia pays. It is still an undisclosed sum, but EBU hinted in 2014 it was around the same amount as the big five. Sony who has paid for the two artists gains, as a new market opens for those artists.
    I dont think having more participants necessarily improves the competition. I think a certain European flavour goes missing when you introduce Americanised music. Lets face it, that was happening without bringing Australia into it.
    In the end is it a battle of performance, lyrics and composition?

  2. I have no issue with Australia competing. So long as they continue to send good acts with great songs I don’t see the problem.

    In regards to the argument “Australia is not in Europe” that’s a non-starter given that Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Israel are all Asian countries but are eligible to compete.

    Also the anti-Australian sentiment goes against the very nature of Eurovision and it’s all inclusive rhetoric.

    The only issue I have is that as associate members do they not pay less money in membership fees than full members but effectively have the same benefits of full member by being allowed to compete.

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