So what infrastructure does a city need to host Eurovision?

The Eurovision venue in Lisbon. Image: Adridan Bradley.

Eurovision is the largest entertainment show in the world. More than 200m viewers around the world watch the sublime to the ridiculous and the best and worst music that Europe (oh, and Australia) has to offer.

But what about the host city? What does it take put on the biggest Eurovision party there is?

Some 50,000 tourists will descend on your city from all over the world. You’ll put on 12 live shows, plus plenty of rehearsals – and need to schmooze about 1,500 journalists and bloggers. And that’s not counting all the delegations. 

And the kicker – you have no idea if you’re going to be hosting it until around midnight on the night of the final of the previous year. Imagine having to put on the world cup, with less than a year’s notice – and you never even bid in the first place.  And it’s all down to the host broadcaster, who may never have put on an event at this scale.

So, what do you need?

1. A venue

This is the most important part – but sometimes the hardest. You need an arena that can hold a giant stage, up to 15,000 fans, commentators from up to 50 countries – and a massive camera and sound system. Plus it’s going to need to be empty for about a month before the tournament.

If you don’t have anything that fits the bill, you could do what Azerbaijan did and just build a brand new one, or do what Denmark did and stick it in an empty warehouse. If Cyprus does win tonight, it’s thought that it’ll offer to just stick a roof on a football stadium.

Then it’s got to be able to cope with selling thousands of tickets – when demand will massively outstrip supply. This was another area where Kiev fell flat. The local agency just couldn’t cope with demand: it became luck of the draw, if the website would work for you.

Portugal’s ticket system this year was better – but it used a queueing system that was easy to bypass. The result was thousands of unhappy fans with access to Twitter – and a chance to lose some of that hard earned good PR for your city.

2. A press centre

The press centre in Lisbon. Image: Adrian Bradley.

A venue is useless if the 1,500 journalists can’t work, mingle with the acts, and fight over the best PR tat. In Lisbon, the arena is on the site of the EXPO World Fair 1998 – so they had a ready-made home. But yours has to be big, and come with a working area, press conference hall, interview rooms, radio studios, and ideally somewhere to eat.

3. Hotel rooms

Some 50,000 tourists come to Eurovision – do you have somewhere to put them? Can you build it in a year? The official line form the European Broadcast Union (EBU) is that every entrant to Eurovision could host it, but could Moldova really find enough space in Chisinau for everyone? It’s a tough ask. Plus hotelliers might rub their hands with glee at the opportunity to put up prices – but that doesn’t go down well with the EBU, so you’ve got to be able to keep a firm grip on the industry.


4. Flights

How’s everyone going to get there? One of the cities that wanted to host Ukraine’s Eurovision last year was Odessa – a lovely seaside resort that sadly has no direct flights from most of Europe.

5. A ‘Euroclub’

When you’ve got 1,500 journalists, most of whom are Eurovision fans, they expect to party. The contest hosts probably the most exclusive gay club in Europe over two weeks, playing Eurovision hits all the time.

In some cities, only delegations and press are allowed in. But recently they started extending that to fans as well. In Kiev, they had a huge Euroclub that everyone could buy a wristband for.

So with expectations set high, Lisbon brought them back down to earth with a tiny venue. That forced the fan clubs to set up their own club, which itself was too small; 1,600 wristbands sold out in a few minutes. Any host city needs to seriously think about where they’re going to entertain a bunch of adrenaline-fuelled Eurovision fans. 

A big problem that no host city, or host fanclub, has dealt with properly is what to do with fans who don’t drink or club. There’s a lack like of sober, quieter places.

6. A Eurovision village

This is another opportunity for the host city to show off to tourists – usually it’s in a central square with big screens, beer tents, merch stalls and a stage. There are special performances – screenings of all the live shows and a place for people from all over Europe to mingle.

But if you put it somewhere to show off your city, it often ends up being miles away from the arena – forcing people to make big trips back and forth across a city. That’s fine in Lisbon, where you’ve got great and cheap public transport, but it won’t work as seamlessly everywhere else. Also, don’t make Lisbon’s mistake – if you’re selling lots of beer, have more than six portaloos.

Could every city do it? You really do have to wonder. Kiev came perilously close to losing the right to host it last year, with rumours that Berlin was preparing to step in. A surprise win could leave some countries with a hell of a hangover on Sunday morning. But the Eurovision circus always finds a way to roll on.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.