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Tchoukball comes home to Geneva

The little-known sport of Tchoukball is currently enjoying something of a homecoming. Its world championships are being held in Geneva, where the game was invented 30 years ago.

Tchoukball, which prides itself on its sportsmanship, is a kind of hybrid between handball and basketball, with a dash of volleyball and pelota thrown in for good measure. It was the brainchild of the Geneva doctor, Hermann Brandt, who wanted to encourage a new attitude towards sport.

"He realised that many sporting injuries are a result of contact. When two players go for the same ball, they are likely to collide, " explains Erika Mesmer, secretary general of the world championship organising committee.

"Dr Brandt wanted to devise rules which would avoid this kind of aggression. He also believed firmly in fair-play and that's something we try to carry on," Mesmer told swissinfo.

Brandt was a firm believer that the whole point of physical activity was, to put it in his own words, "not to manufacture champions but to help build a more harmonious society".

Tchoukball requires a minimum of equipment. All you need to play is a handball and two small trampolines, known in the game as frames or rebound surfaces.

It can be played anywhere. These championships are being held on an indoor court, but it is just as often played outside, on grass or a beach. There is even a variation that is played in a swimming pool, like water polo.

At first, the game can seem a little baffling. But the basic rules can be learnt in a few minutes. A game of Tchoukball lasts for 45 minutes, or three periods of 15 minutes. There are either seven or nine players per side, depending on the size of the pitch.

The team with the ball can attack either of the frames, which are tilted at an angle of 55 degrees and placed at either end of the playing surface. It is allowed to make three passes before it has to throw it onto one of the trampolines.

"The aim of the attacking team is to throw ball in such a way that the other team can't catch the rebound. If the ball hits the ground, the attackers get a point. If the defenders catch it, the match carries on and it's their turn to attack," Mesmer explains.

Two very important rules set Tchoukball apart from other sports. Firstly, the attacking team can attack both frames, so it can immediately attack the same end of the pitch as it has just been defending.

Secondly, the defending side is not allowed to intercept the ball. In this way organising your defence is just as important as constructing an attack.

"You win by playing better than the other side, not by trying to crush the other side," Mesmer says.

Because it is a non-contact sport, physical prowess is not an important factor.

"If you play rugby, you have to be gargantuan. But it's not like that with Tchoukball," says the British team coach, Steve Morris. "You can be any shape or size. All you need is to be able to throw and catch."

This helps to explain why so many women play Tchoukball. The world championships are divided into separate competitions for men and women. But the sport is often played by mixed teams.

"In our national championships, men and women play together," says Carole Greber of the Swiss women's team.

"Everyone can play, even if you are not tall or muscular. You also have to be clever, because the tactics are important. It's not just a question of throwing the ball as hard as you can," she told swissinfo.

The last world championship was held in Britain in 1990. In the past ten years, there have been attempts to hold another one, but these have foundered because of a lack of money and sponsorship.

The favourites to win the tournament are Switzerland, Britain and Taiwan, countries which all have a well-developed club structure. For example, there are 12 clubs in Switzerland. But the sport is also beginning to take root in Latin America, Japan and South Asia.

Tchoukball has the potential to spread further and maybe even become a mass-participation sport. It is similar enough to other games to be accessible, but sufficiently different to provide a refreshing challenge. However, practitioners hope that some basic ideals will remain intact.

"We want to grow and we would like to become a big sport, but we want to keep this spirit of fair-play and friendship which Dr Brandt gave us," Erika Mesmer says.

The Tchoukball world championships, to which entry is free, is at the Bout-du-Monde sports complex in Geneva until Sunday, when the finals will be held. On the same day, a People's Tournament for members of the public is being organised.

by Roy Probert

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