One of the most common questions those unfamiliar with the contest ask during Eurovision week is about two countries geographically outside Europe but still participating in the contest. So, why do Australia and Israel compete in Eurovision?
As we’ve explained in an earlier post, entry to Eurovision is not limited to those countries geographically contained within “Europe.” Participation requires the national broadcaster to be a member (or associate member – we’ll come on to that!) of the European Broadcasting Union. The EBU accepts members from within the European Broadcasting Area, an area significantly wider than the typical understanding of “Europe.”
The European Broadcasting Union – Image Source: EBU
Israel has always been within the European Broadcasting Area, which allowed the former Israeli national broadcaster, Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), to join the EBU in 1957. After the IBA was shut down in 2017, KAN took over the organisation of Israel’s participation in the contest. KAN was granted full EBU membership in December 2018. KAN hosted Eurovision 2019 in Tel Aviv.
Israel’s participation in the contest has caused some controversy over the years. Many Arab countries that are eligible to participate in the contest (including Algeria, Libya and Egypt) refuse to do so because of Israel.
Tunisia and Lebanon have also expressed interest in the contest in the past. In 1977, Tunisia was due to participate but withdrew giving no official reason. In 2005, Lebanon had gone so far as to select a song but later withdrew after being unable to confirm that they would broadcast the Israeli performance that year.
This year, Israel will be represented by Eden Alene with the song Set Me Free. She will compete in the first semi-final on 18th May.
Australia’s participation in Eurovision is a special case. Clearly, the country falls well outside the EBA. However, the Australian broadcaster SBS is an associate member of the EBU.
Australia and SBS have a long history with Eurovision. The contest was first broadcast in the country in 1983 and Australian commentators were first sent in 2002. Many Australian artists have taken to the Eurovision stage for other countries, including Gina G (United Kingdom 1996), Olivia Newton-John (United Kingdom 1974) and Jane Comerford (as the lead singer of Texas Lightning, Germany 2006).
In recognition of Australia’s enthusiasm for the contest and the fanbase there, SBS were invited to provide the interval act for one of the semi-finals in 2014 in Copenhagen. The song Sea of Flags was performed by the Australian singer Jessica Mauboy.
In 2015, the EBU invited SBS to participate in Eurovision as part of the celebrations for the 60th contest. Guy Sebastian represented Australia in Vienna in 2015 and finished in 5th place with Tonight Again. Australia received an automatic slot in the final for their 2015 participation.
Despite the initial position that Australia would enter on a one-off occasion, Australia have participated in Eurovision every year since. However, the country now has to qualify from the semi-finals, which it has managed to do every year from 2016 to 2019.
In 2019, a deal was reached was between SBS and the EBU that guarantees Australia’s participation until 2023. In 2021, Australia will be represented by Montaigne with the song Technicolour.
Montaigne will also compete in the first semi-final on 18th May. However, due to Covid-19 related restrictions, she has not been able to travel to Rotterdam and her performance for the show has been pre-recorded for the event.
If Australia is ever to win Eurovision, it is expected that SBS will co-host the Eurovision Song Contest in a European city, together with an EBU Member Broadcaster.
Image Source: EBU / Thomas Hanses