Fingerhakeln and Hornussen - more than just a game
Forget football, Euro 2008 hosts Austria and Switzerland wrestle with their own, obscure sports.
Switzerland is tipped to do better than Austria at Euro 2008 - and it also has the edge as far as obscure sports in the two host countries of the football tournament are concerned.
Die-hard Swiss like to gather for Hornussen (something of a mixture between golf and baseball) and Schwingen (wrestling). There is also Steinstossen (throwing a giant stone).
Austria has its own variant of wrestling, but just with one finger, the Fingerhakeln, which is practised around the country.
Hornussen, Schwingen and Steinstossen all have their own events and come together every three years at the so-called Eidgenoessische Schwing- und Aelplerfest, a major event in Swiss culture which is next set for 2010.
In 2007, Joerg Abderhalden was only the third man to become the Schwingerkoenig (king of Schwingen) in the event's long history.
Practised by around 4,500 men, a Schwing match takes place on a saw-dust-covered ring with a diameter of 12 metres. Schwingers wear short pants made of jute over their clothes, and try to throw each other onto their backs.
There are various throws, some similar to judo, in the sport which dates back to the 17th century. A Schwingen tournament consists of up to eight matches, with the winners' price not a huge amount of cash, but for instance simply a bull at the Eidgenoessische event.
"It is not just a sport, it is an event," says Ernst Schlaepfer chairman of the Schwingen Wrestling Federation based in Schaffhausen in the north-east of the country. "When people go to watch a match they go for the whole day, it is a big social event."
Schwingen is in fact so popular in Switzerland that the sport still associated with rural areas doesn't even need to be showcased during Euro 2008.
"We have enough spectators already," said Schlaepfer.
The Hornussen community, by contrast, hopes to get new members through guaranteed exposure in the country and abroad during Euro 2008, with the Swiss championships taking place in June.
"A lot of television companies have been asking to film Hornussen being played as they look at other sports around Euro 2008. You never know that might raise interest in the game," says Hornussen association spokesman Rudolf Schuepbach.
Hornussen is a team sport of 18 members with a small stone, or better a puck, which flies through the air at up to 300kph for more than 300m after being launched with a whip from a ramp - with the opposing team trying to bring it to the ground with giant catch boards.
The name comes from the noise the puck makes, sounding like a hornet (Swiss-German Hornouss). The winning team is determined by the amount of failed interceptions of the puck (the Nouss).
Schuepbach said there are 8,500 players and around 200 clubs, but that popularity is stagnating as it is hard to attract young players and to prepare the ground for the long matches.
Steinstossen also dates back a while, two centuries, with the so-called Unspunnen stone thrown for the first time in 1805. The record stands at 4.11m since 2004, set by Markus Meire. The distance seems short, but is huge given the stone's weight of 83.5kg.
The 1805 stone got lost immediately and a replica has been used since 1905. However, this was stolen twice by separatists from the French- speaking Jura region, first 1984-2001, and again in 2005. Another replica is now used.
(DPA - Expatica 2008)