All eyes may be focused on Athens, but this weekend thousands of sports fans have been flocking to central Switzerland for games of a different sort.
Up to 100,000 people are expected to turn up for the Federal Wrestling Festival in Lucerne to witness the crowning of a new “king”.
The festival, which takes place every three years, has returned to its heartland, after a successful escapade to Nyon in French-speaking Switzerland in 2001. It began officially on Friday afternoon with the arrival of the offical flag in Lucerne and a parade.
The biggest fans of Swiss-style wrestling, or “Schwingen”, are to be found in the German-speaking part of the country, where most of the 290 competitors come from.
Those taking part include 15 representatives of the Swiss abroad and a member of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard.
After four rounds of fights on Saturday, the 130 best athletes will go on to compete for a crown and other prizes, worth SFr500,000 ($403,000) on Sunday. The overall winner, the “king”, will receive a bull.
The competition attracts a huge following. The Swiss Federal Railways will be laying on 27 special trains to transport spectators from all over the country.
The festival’s importance is underlined by the fact that the Swiss president, Joseph Deiss, will be attending. Deiss has called the competition “a reminder of traditional values”.
For the fans, though, the event represents the only opportunity to see all the country’s best wrestlers in one place. Over 30,000 spectators will be crammed into the specially built arena on the outskirts of Lucerne.
The favourites this year will be the top two finishers at the last festival. Arnold Forrer and Jörg Abderhalden are expected to face off for the title again this year, with reigning champion Forrer enjoying a slight advantage.
Wrestling won’t be the only competition over the weekend. Other events include throwing the legendary Unspunnen stone, which weighs over 80 kilograms, and a hornuss tournament.
Hornuss involves two teams of players, with one side hitting a small puck with a large semi-rigid whip, and the other trying to stop the puck from touching the ground.
Traditionally, the festival also attracts the best yodellers, flag-throwers and alphorn players in the country, offering virtual non-stop entertainment for spectators.
swissinfo with agencies
The first Federal Wrestling Festival took place in 1895 in Biel.
The festival is held every three years, in different parts of the country.
Around 120,000 spectators followed the fights held in Nyon in 2001.
This year’s competition is taking place on the outskirts of Lucerne.
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