Trousers required for flag throwers

Try this with a dress on

(Keystone Archive)

Flag waving is an integral part of National Day celebrations that many, young and old, are allowed to take part in. But "flag throwing" remains the preserve of Swiss men.

A woman from the mountain resort of Saas Fee is now raising the red and white banner for women to bring the sport into the 21st century.

Erika Andenmatten has already taken part as a flag thrower in the traditional parade of the prestigious national yodelling festival. But she did so wearing men's trousers, bending the rules in her favour.

Competitors must wear a traditional costume, which can be a problem for women since their folk dress is – well - a dress.

Flag throwers not only toss the square piece of fabric into the air and catch it again, but the standard routine also requires them to pull it between their legs. Hence the need for trousers.

"Gosh, that's a woman," was the cry Andenmatten once heard from the crowd as she marched past twirling her flag. But she says her male counterparts have no problem doing battle with a woman.

She is convinced that women can compete with men on even terms if the rules are changed. She already has command of several of the most difficult spins, twirls and tosses.

Andenmatten's coach, Hansruedi Zbinden, refuses to place all of the blame though on the Swiss Yodelling Association, to which the flag throwers belong, saying he knows of only two women, including Andenmatten, who have shown an interest in competing.

Fly flag

The sport requires athletic skill and Andenmatten says she would not oppose a compromise solution whereby women would be allowed to enter competitions with a somewhat smaller and lighter flag.

The association board says it does not want to rush into making changes. President Matthias Wüthrich says the issue will be investigated thoroughly before the findings go to a commission of flag throwing experts. "We want to take as much time as needed to analyse the situation properly," he adds.

That means that women will not be allowed to compete at the long-awaited Unspunnen folklore festival, due to take place in Interlaken at the beginning of September.

A festival spokesman said it would respect the association's rules, but would be pleased if women were allowed to compete one day. And the chances are good that female flag throwers will be able to take part at the next Unspunnen event – scheduled for 2018.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The Swiss Yodelling Association has more than 25,000 members.
Despite "modernisation", according to the association, membership continues to grow.
The Unspunnen folklore festival will take place from September 1-3 in Interlaken.

In brief

Flag throwing is an integral part of Swiss customs, along with yodelling and alphorn playing.

The three disciplines have been governed by the Swiss Yodelling Association since 1910.

The association has foreign branches in many English-speaking countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.



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