From herdsman’s pastime to national sport.
Schwingen is very popular in Switzerland and has experienced an upsurge in recent times.
Schwingen is an ancient sport that has been around for a very long time. Schwingen’s origins are hard to place an exact date on. The first Alpine shepherd’s festival at Unspunnen in 1805 marked a revival of the sport of Schwingen at a time when Switzerland was suffering under French rule. The aim of this festival was to explicitly strengthen the Swiss national consciousness. In the 19th century, Swiss wrestling was introduced to the cities through wrestling festivals and by sports coaches. Hence, from this original herdsman’s and farmer’s pastime a Swiss national sport was created.
Schwingen used to give the men of one valley a chance to test themselves against those from elsewhere. The classic test was on the Brünig pass, where wrestlers from central Switzerland would meet those from the Bernese region to see who was the strongest,
The rules of schwingen
Competitors wear special burlap shorts over their trousers with a slit at the back that allows the opponent to grip the belt. Originally, these were the trousers they wore every day, just rolling them up for the fight. The contest involves one round lasting 10-12 minutes.
The winner is the one who throws his opponent onto his back with both shoulder blades touching the ground without losing his grip on his opponent’s shorts.
The Federal Wrestling and Alpine Games Festival is the country’s largest wrestling event and takes place every three years. It consists of eight rounds of wrestling over two days.
For all its popularity today, schwingen was actually forbidden at certain times in Switzerland’s history. According to the Swiss Schwingen Federation, in the 16th and 17th centuries the authorities feared that schwingen would keep people away from church. Because schwingen was often done on religious holidays, it kept being made a punishable offence.