The owners of the Eurovision song contest have turned down a request from Volodymyr Zelenskiy to make a video appearance during the final on Saturday in Liverpool.
The Ukrainian president had hoped to appeal to the global audience of about 160 million people to continue their support for his country in the war with Russia.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) – an alliance of more than 100 broadcasters that oversees the contest – is concerned that an appearance by Zelenskiy risks politicising the event.
An EBU spokesperson told the Times: “The Eurovision song contest is an international entertainment show and governed by strict rules and principles which have been established since its creation. As part of these, one of the cornerstones of the contest is the non-political nature of the event. This principle prohibits the possibility of making political or similar statements as part of the contest.
“The request by Mr Zelenskiy to address the audience at the Eurovision song contest, whilst made with laudable intentions, regrettably cannot be granted as it would be against the rules of the event.”
The spokesperson added that in this week’s two semi-finals and the final of the contest, there are 11 Ukrainian artists including last year’s winners Kalush Orchestra.
“Additionally 37 locations around Ukraine will feature in the short film postcards that introduce each of the participating artists before they take to the stage. We believe that this is the best way to reflect and celebrate Ukraine’s Eurovision song contest win and show we are united by music during these hard times.”
The BBC, this year’s host of the song contest, is among the broadcasters that are members of the EBU but decision-making lies with the body itself.
It is not the first time that Zelenskiy has been barred from giving a video address at major entertainment and sporting events.
A request to speak at the Oscars in March was said to have been declined for the second consecutive year, in addition to the Toronto film festival in September.
A request by Zelenskiy to share a message of world peace before the kickoff at the World Cup final in Qatar last December was rejected by Fifa, it was reported.
Lady Stowell, chair of the Lords communications and digital select committee and the BBC’s former head of corporate affairs, said the Ukrainian president should be allowed to speak at Eurovision. “It’s the wrong decision to deny him the opportunity to give a message on the basis that they don’t support political statements,” she told the Times. “It’s not acceptable.”
Ukraine’s national broadcaster UA:PBC said in October that it was unable to host the 67th edition of the song contest on safety grounds due to the Russian invasion.
The EBU asked the BBC to host the competition after the UK finished in second place last year with Sam Ryder’s Space Man.