Switzerland is not the first country that people would associate with cricket, but Swiss youngsters are taking up the sport in growing numbers.This content was published on March 18, 2005 - 10:58
The Swiss Cricket Association (SCA) launched a successful initiative a year ago that has already attracted around 40 Swiss children, aged from six to 12, to the game.
The Youth Cricket Development Programme has been such an instant hit in Zurich and Geneva that the SCA plans to extend it throughout the country with games organised between club sides. The ultimate aim is to create a Swiss youth cricket side to play internationals.
Cricket has to compete with football, basketball, ice hockey and other winter sports in Switzerland, but parents are attracted to cricket’s clean image.
One parent, Alex Segert, whose seven and nine-year-old children, Yannick and Leila, attend coaching sessions at Hottingen School in Zurich, explained that cricket is an ideal sport for youngsters.
"I am increasingly seeing examples of bad language, cheating and foul play associated with many sports," he said.
"I wanted my children to participate in team sports, but I was worried that they would pick up bad behaviour. Cricket provides the best of both worlds – exercise and teamwork without bad attitude.
"The scheme allows boys and girls to play together, and I also thought it would be an ideal way for them to learn some English language and culture in the process."
The youth programme received a further boost this month from the sport’s ruling body. The International Cricket Council honoured programme creator Patrick Henderson with an award, together with a gift of equipment to help it expand.
"Cricket is viewed in Switzerland as a sport for ex-pats," said Henderson. "But we are determined to get Swiss people involved by starting them young.
"The youth programme targets six to 12-year-olds because older children have already taken up other sports and cricket is quite technical, so it is better to teach the basics at a young age.
"I am delighted with the initial response to the programme and quite surprised by how many Swiss children have actually shown an interest."
State schools in Zurich and Winterthur have included cricket as an extra-curricular activity, which is going some way to banishing the image of cricket as a "dull" or "slow" game.
Sports teacher Mirka Jacober from the cantonal school of Glarus explained that a visit by 18-year-old pupils to team practice sessions of the Zurich Royals put the sport into a new perspective.
"We were all surprised by how fast the game is played, how hard the ball is hit and how fit you need to be to play cricket," she said.
"We used to view cricket as a pastime rather than a sport until we saw it being played properly. Now we can see that it is every bit as energetic, skilful and demanding as other sports."
Swiss tennis ace Roger Federer gave the sport his blessing at the Australian Open in January when he tried his hand at batting during a rest day.
"You never know, we’ve got a sailing team," he joked, referring to land-locked Switzerland’s triumph in the America’s Cup in 2003. "Maybe a cricket team is next."
In fact, Switzerland already has a national cricket team that participates in international matches and a network of 16 league clubs with some 250 members.
The majority of players are ex-pats, but Patrick Henderson does not want cricket to stand still in Switzerland.
"It’s vital for the health and expansion of cricket in Switzerland that we get more Swiss people playing," he said.
"With the Youth Cricket Development Programme we aim to get more Swiss joining cricket clubs and playing for the senior national team."
swissinfo, Matt Allen
The inaugural meeting of the Swiss Cricket Association was on March 9, 1980.
Cricket has been played in the country since at least 1817.
15 clubs take part in the SCA competition on a league basis.
In 1985 the SCA was granted affiliate membership of the International Cricket Council.