The Eurovision Song Contest, the annual competition that has launched the careers of international superstars like Céline Dion, is imperiled.
A crisis in Ukraine. Rumors of a Russian threat. An enduring institution of postwar Europe in jeopardy.
No, not NATO. It is the Eurovision Song Contest, the annual competition that has launched the careers of international superstars like Céline Dion, and that is now imperiled after the Ukrainian team organizing the event this week quit en masse amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
A team of 21 producers, who submitted a letter of resignation, said they had been “completely blocked” from the decision-making process and claimed work had “stopped for almost two months” after a new executive was appointed to oversee preparations.
Questions remain about whether public tenders were properly offered, or offered at all, for the construction of the contest’s soundstage and visitors’ village, and the country’s anti-corruption body ordered a halt on ticket sales this month after vendors complained that a distributor had not been selected in a transparent way.
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The producers’ resignation elicited a swift reaction from the European Broadcasting Union, which founded the contest, and Ukraine’s prime minister, who promised the show would go on.
The contest, held each year in the country of the last winner and watched by 180 million people worldwide, is often compared to major international sporting events like the soccer World Cup or the Olympics.
Born out of a postwar desire to compete on stages, not battlefields, Eurovision is saddled with extra significance this year because it is to be held in Ukraine, where government troops are still battling Russian-backed rebels three years after Russia annexed Crimea.
“It is an apolitical event that’s completely political,” said William Lee Adams, the founder and editor of Wiwibloggs, a website devoted to covering the contest. Last year’s winner, the Ukrainian singer Jamala, beat a Russian in an upset victory with the song “1944” about the plight of Ukraine’s Tatar minority deported from Crimea under Josef Stalin.
After relocating the host city three times, and after rumors that the contest could be moved to Russia, this year’s competition was scheduled for May 13 in Kiev.
“We are conducting the preparation for Eurovision properly. Absolutely nothing threatens Eurovision,” Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman told a government meeting Tuesday.
The success of the competition is not just a political and cultural necessity but an economic one as well. In 2010, the Norwegian network NRK chose not to broadcast the World Cup because it could not afford to air both events. Thousands of tourists from Europe and the Middle East typically flock to the host city to watch the event’s two-week final.
But the departing producers said the Ukrainian public broadcaster, which will air the event, had not adequately funded the contest and questioned whether it could be ready in time.
In a statement, the European Broadcasting Union said it had reiterated to the Ukrainians “the importance of a speedy and efficient implementation of plans already agreed, despite staff changes, and that we stick to the timeline.”