Nyon builds massive stage for top Swiss wrestlers

The Federal Wrestling Festival is held every three years Keystone Archive

In just under two weeks, tens of thousands of people from German-speaking Switzerland will be descending on the Lake Geneva area for the one of Switzerland's biggest sporting and cultural events, the Federal Wrestling and Alpine Games Festival. To welcome them, the town of Nyon is building the country's biggest temporary structure.

This content was published on August 10, 2001 - 15:04

Nyon was a surprise choice to host the gathering, which serves as a reaffirmation of a particularly German-speaking tradition. But the town is determined that those making the trip south and west from places like St Gallen, Chur, Langnau or Schwyz will receive a warm welcome.

The hexagonal arena, whose surface is the size of four football pitches, will hold a total of 40,000 people, including 33,000 seated spectators - around the same capacity as Basel's new state-of-the-art St Jakob stadium.

There are four different kinds of stands, since no one company possessed enough material to complete the entire job.

This structure is located at Asse, just outside Nyon, lying between Lake Geneva and the Jura mountains. The site, which is divided between three different communes, is better known as the venue for Switzerland's biggest rock festival, Paleo.

Wrestling arena

The fact that Paleo ended barely two weeks ago has presented logistical problems for the organisers. "We were having to begin building the wrestling arena as we were still dismantling the Paleo site," says Stéphane Python, who is in charge of construction for both events.

Hundreds of soldiers and members of the local civil protection force have been involved in the construction work, but Python has struggled to get enough volunteers.

"We have 26 years of experience with Paleo, so it isn't hard to get people to help," he told swissinfo. "But this is the first time the Federal Wrestling Festival has happened here and there is a certain fear of the unknown."

Swiss-style wrestling, better known in its homeland as "schwingen", has its roots in the mountain pastures of eastern and central Switzerland. With the exception of a few outposts in French-speaking Switzerland, it is essentially a German-speaking sport.

The Federal Wrestling Festival is held every three years, and the last time it ventured into French-speaking Switzerland was in 1986, in Sion. Prior to that, it went to La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1972.

One of the biggest challenges facing the organisers has been generating interest among local people who find it hard to identify not only with the sport but also a Swiss culture that is very different to their own.

100,000 people expected

Around 100,000 people are expected to attend the festival over the three days, but three-quarters of the tickets sold so far have been snapped up by German-speakers.

It is hoped that many locals will come along out of curiosity to see many of the free attractions, as "schwingen" is the only activity for which spectators will have to pay.

Outside the main arena, visitors will be able to see other peculiarly Swiss pastimes: "hornussen" - a kind of alpine golf, where a player hits a projectile and opponents have to intercept it before it touches the ground; throwing the Unspunnen stone which weighs up to 80 kilogrammes; flag-throwing; yodelling and alphorn-playing.

But the traditions, cuisine and music of canton Vaud will also be on display. The organisers want to build a bridge between the alpine Swiss tradition and the lakeside one.

"If the Federal Wrestling Association decided to stage the festival in Nyon, it was because it wanted to try something new," says Python.

"The basic idea is to invite people to French-speaking Switzerland - which is far removed from wrestling tradition - and to show them that we have our traditions here too, as well as for local people to discover this sport and Swiss culture," he adds.

by Roy Probert

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In compliance with the JTI standards

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