After its first cancellation, the Eurovision Song Contest kicks off the big week of its 65th edition, “The most difficult in its history”, as recognized by those responsible, and, to exorcise the demons of the pandemic, also a “much more expensive”.
Whoever thinks that the necessary distances and other precautions associated with covid-19 have reduced the spectacularity is mistaken. “The venue is incredible, the stage is fantastic and the quality of the production is at its highest level.”, Says Martin Österdahl, who debuts as executive supervisor of the event for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).
The Swede, who has a long career in television in his country and was a producer of Eurovision in the 2013 and 2016 editions, smiles when he ironically mentions that he is taking over at his “best” moment, after the unprecedented cancellation of 2020.
“There was no other option,” he says emphatically about that decision. “The pandemic was something new, but now we have learned a lot about how to handle it”, He adds, before acknowledging that,“ although each year has its challenges, this has been the most difficult ”.
The day after the cancellation, work began on the edition that is starting now. “We decided then that Eurovision had to return in 2021, whatever the format was”He emphatically points out, after praising the“ courage ”of the city of Rotterdam and Dutch television in resuming the festival venue.
To achieve this, they went around their usual work processes and began conversations with the countries in the competition to “check what restrictions were in each one and study what could be changed to be more flexible.”
“The idea of holding a song festival still in pandemic must have sounded crazy to some. Eurovision is actually pretty crazy in and of itself, because it’s probably the most complex television production in the world. But there was a tradition behind 64 editions and a history of collaboration between all … and these 39 countries really wanted this to happen ”, he indicates.
Only two of the countries that were to participate before the pandemic have dropped out in 2021, Armenia and Belarus., although the latter did so due to a last-minute disagreement with the EBU due to the political message contained in his song, something forbidden in the regulations.
Nor will Australia travel due to the strong restrictions there, although its representative will participate thanks to one of the innovations: security recordings, that is, records of the actions carried out from the contending countries themselves under strict rules to avoid the supposed “playbacks” of the previous Junior Eurovision.
“We gave very specific rules regarding the number of takes and the time. We also make sure to be present during the recordings, whether via Zoom or similar, and we double-check all the material.. We did not want Eurovision to come back as a contest for perfect and manipulated video clips to correct vocal imperfections, because that live component is fundamental, ”he emphasizes.
In this edition the only voices that will be able to arrive recorded from the studio for the first time are those of the different choirs, another novelty to reduce the number of members of the delegations and facilitate travel.
“I do not know how much that changes the festival or if it is a positive change, it is too early to say. Right now we are mainly focused on 2021 and, at the end, we will evaluate how it has worked and how we adapt to 2022”, He affirms about the possible survival of the measure.
Thanks to it, the number of members of each of the 39 delegations in competition has been reduced to a maximum of 20 people, half. Likewise, 500 face-to-face accreditations have been granted to journalists, when the normal is 1,500, and by limiting the sale of tickets, the city will not receive Eurofan from other countries.
“What does not change is the technical team, which will be more or less the same, because the work within the venue is,” says the EBU’s highest authority for the festival, which has arranged exhaustive controls among all participants to tackle possible outbreaks.
In these routine analyzes (which, for example, are mandatory for the press every 48 hours) the two positive cases declared in the last hours were discovered within the Polish and Icelandic delegations. Its artists were automatically excluded from the inaugural walk through the turquoise carpet on Sunday, as were Malta and Romania, with whom they share a hotel.
They will return to activity as soon as their PCR results are negative and, in case they are in quarantine they cannot participate in the semifinals or in the grand final this Saturday, all the contestants have already recorded one of their tests in the great stage of the Ahoy Rotterdam.
Outside of there there will be no parallel activities for ordinary citizens, a precaution for which until a few weeks ago it was not decided that 3,500 locals could buy tickets for any of the official rehearsals or “shows”, a meager amount for a show that it usually welcomes an average of 15,000 attendees at prices comparable to those of a very first international music star.
Is Eurovision profitable under those conditions? “I don’t know, but we had no other choice. We had to accept that this is a global crisis and that when you try to bring 39 delegations together in one place and turn it into a safe space, it will be much more expensive ”, recognizes Österdahl, who reserves the figure in pursuit of a greater objective .
“I will be very proud if we succeed in carrying out the three shows of this edition with the 39 countries and we bring back the fun and passion to all the fans of the festival, especially if each one of those who come to Rotterdam returns. home safe ”, he adds.