Russia might win the Eurovision Song Contest this year, for the first time since the country introduced its anti-gay law.
Russia has had a tumultuous relationship with the camp contest, which is known for its large gay following.
The country’s lawmakers have repeatedly called for a boycott the ‘Eurovision sodom show’, with a renewed push after the victory of drag artist Conchita Wurst.
The contest’s fans have been equally hostile to Russia – though it has not impacted their scores – with the contest deploying ‘anti-booing’ tech last year to minimise repeated heckling.
That’s why it’s somewhat surprising that ahead of the 61st Eurovision Song Contest in May, Russia’s entrant Sergey Lazarev is currently the firm favourite to win.
Lazarev is one of Russia’s biggest singers, and his dance-pop anthem ‘You Are the Only One’ is currently impressing audiences across Europe.
No expense was spared on the video, which features a mesmerising blend of projection and cinematography that could win over fans if staged well on the night.
Lazarev is no stranger to partially-clothed Instagram snaps. What’s the Russian for ‘know your audience’?
With all 43 participants confirmed, bookmakers have Lazarev as the clear favourite, blowing away the nearest competition from Sweden, Australia and Croatia – but a Russian victory could put organisers in an awkward position.
Tradition dictates that the winning country is offered the chance to host the next contest – which may prove difficult for the thousands of gay fans hoping to attend.
One thing is for sure if Eurovision does head to Russia: it will be an impressive show. The last Russia-hosted Eurovision in 2009 is remembered as one of the most expensive in the contest’s history, with the host country sparing no expense in converting Moscow’s Olympic Stadium, constructing a giant set out of state-of-the-art LED screens.
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But anti-LGBT sentiment has hardened since 2009, with the introduction of a ‘gay propaganda’ law in 2013 banning the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relationships”.
The law would put the European Broadcasting Union in an awkward position – as heading to Russia in 2017 may curtail the freedom of expression linked to the contest, putting a dampener on the associated gay club nights and week-long parties.
As anti-gay extremism is also on the rise, fans may also face the threat of vigilante violence.
It is unclear what path the EBU would take in case of a Russian victory, though sources insist the safety of fans will always be paramount.
Russia could in theory pass up the chance to host the contest – but this would be hugely embarrassing given the all-out approach to winning.
The state could also seek to give ‘assurances’ that fans would not be subject to the anti-gay law, as it did for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 – but this may antagonise lawmakers within the country.
Even if assurances are made, the EBU would still likely face strong criticism in the West as the International Olympic Committee did.
There is likely no easy solution – and we’re imagining some Eurovision bigwigs have their fingers and toes crossed that Lazarev flops on the night.
The Grand Final of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Stockholm on May 14.