‘It’s much more complicated this year’ – Eurovision gets underway in Rotterdam

Strict measures are in place to protect contestants and live audience members

Roisin O'Connor
Monday 17 May 2021 09:50
Eurovision 1974: Abba performs Waterloo

The Eurovision Song Contest is roaring back to life, one year after it was forced to cancel the competition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Delegates from countries around Europe are travelling to the Dutch city of Rotterdam to take part, with strict measures in place to protect contestants and the live audience from risk of infection.

The thousands of fans allowed to attend dress rehearsals, the two semifinals and the grand final on Saturday 22 May will also have to undergo a rigorous testing procedure.

“Organising the Eurovision Song Contest is always challenging because you have less than a year to organise one of the biggest and most complex events in Europe but to do it in a pandemic is much, much more complicated,” Eurovision’s executive producer Sietse Bakker told the Associated Press.

Around the city are small celebrations of the fun and joy that each year’s competition brings.

Outside the Ahoy arena, where the event is being held, traffic lights have been transformed to show a green figure dancing to Abba’s winning song from 1974, “Waterloo”, when it’s safe to cross.

The theme for this year's Eurovision Song Contest is “Open up”, which feels particularly apt as Europe begins to emerge cautiously out of strict lockdown measures.

“We decided to keep the theme because, especially in these times, it’s important that we are open towards each other and that we feel the possibility to open up to one another, to show our true feelings, emotions and thoughts,” Bakker said.

On the official Eurovision website, 2019 winner Duncan Laurence says he sees music as a way of forging connections: “That's why we need the Eurovision Song Contest. To feel connected again.”

The arena will be at 20 per cent capacity, with around 3,500 people at each event who must provide proof of a negative test result that is less than 24 hours old.

The top 10 entries from each semi-final will join France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the Netherlands – who quality automatically for the final – on 22 May.

Additional reporting by Associated Press