Eurovision Song Contest marred by politics

Top of the pops: Conchita Wurst from Austria wins the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest.

Austria won this year, but politics again determined how some countries voted. Does this show that any international competition, even in pop, divides rather than unites us?

Danish dancers threw around a tiny violinist in a box. A Lithuanian sang about shoes, a Frenchman mourned his lack of a moustache. Hairy Greek men danced to technopop in kilts. But in the end, the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 winner was an Austrian drag act singing a power ballad.

The competition is the world’s most popular non-sporting event, famous for its light-hearted festivity. Yet while the public get to vote for the winner, many complain that the voting reflects people’s political ties, rather than an appreciation of talent.

Studies of voting patterns over its 62-year history show countries tend to vote for neighbours with similar cultural outlooks. But some critics say this year’s was the most politicised Eurovision yet. The live audience in Copenhagen booed Russia when it received votes from its neighbours Belarus and Azerbaijian as a protest against its actions in Ukraine and its anti-gay laws.

The former host of the UK’s Eurovision coverage stood down four years ago, saying the competition only reinforced ‘national prejudices’. Does international competition do more harm than good?

The Olympics have often proved divisive. Hitler hoped the 1936 Berlin Games would impress the world with Nazi power, but was embarrassed by the success of African-American runner Jesse Owens. Over 60 nations boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In retaliation, 14 Soviet allies boycotted the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Football too is rarely free from politics. War erupted between El Salvador and Honduras after the countries met in a 1970 World Cup qualifying match. Iran’s football organisation caused a national scandal when it sent a new year’s greeting to the country’s enemy, Israel.

Yet others say sport can help bring nations together. After two decades of frosty relations, the Chinese government invited the US ping-pong team to visit in 1971, which then paved the way for new diplomatic ties.

Everyone’s a winner

Some say that any competition between national representatives creates a ‘them against us’ mentality which detracts from a sense of togetherness. Sport, and even pop music, becomes just another way for countries to play out petty feuds. We should not deceive ourselves into thinking the competition is about anything more than defeating our rivals.

Yet others will note that the winner of Eurovision was a transexual, and surely the support for her is a triumph of inclusivity. Competition brings people together by giving them a shared interest, regardless of where they are in the world. As long as no one takes it too seriously and shows respect for others, competition is something we can all enjoy together.

You Decide

  1. Is international competition divisive or does it bring people together?
  2. 'It’s taking part that counts’ is just a lie that losers tell themselves. Do you agree?


  1. Design an arts competition for everyone in your school which would help bring students together. How would you decide who wins?
  2. Using the links in ‘Become an expert’, find three international competitions that have brought people together, and three that have been divisive. Make a presentation on them.

Some People Say...

“Real learning comes about when the competitive spirit has ceased.’Jiddu Krishnamurti”

What do you think?

Q & A

Competitions are only about winning, why should I care if they are divisive?
While no one in a competition expects that everyone can win, participants become upset if they think they are not been judged fairly. Many say the UK has done poorly in the Eurovision Song Contest since the Iraq War in 2003, when it became unpopular in Europe.
Do people really want their neighbours to succeed?
In Eurovision, it seems clear that countries with strong linguistic and cultural ties want each other to do well. However, football fans rarely want their local rivals to do well. And while England and Scotland are currently part of the same nation, they are fiercely competitive in rugby and football.

Word Watch

President Putin passed a law last summer which will fine anyone caught disseminating propaganda about homosexual relationships to children.
Jesse Owens won four gold medals for the US and his relay team set a new world record. It was a major propaganda blow for the idea of Aryan racial superiority.
The conflict, known as ‘The Football War’, was not really about football but deeper issues like mass migration between the countries. Earlier in the century, Nicaragua and Honduras went to war because Honduras designed a postage stamp claiming disputed territory.
America and China had had no diplomatic contacts since 1949, after the US supported the losing side in China’s civil war. Opening diplomacy through sports is named ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ after this event.

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