Switzerland is full of avid sportspeople trying their hand at popular sports like ice hockey, skiing, and football. But there are also a few traditional Swiss sports that have a great local following.
In order to expel spirits, it used to be a custom to hit burning logs down the mountain into the valley. The unique Swiss sport of Hornussen originated from this ancient tradition. It’s a team game that all ages play without any basic social structure in place.
The batting team has to hit the Nouss (a kind of disk) as far as possible into the opponent’s area. The defending team has to stop the approaching Nouss as soon as possible by using a shingle or catch board. Usually, there are two turns; during each turn, both teams hit and defend once. Each turn, every single player hits twice with three attempts. A game has no set length and it takes about three to four hours to play two bouts. The team with the smallest number of penalization points wins, ie. having the smallest number of failed interceptions. In addition to the team rankings, the Swiss championships and festive occasions also provide for the ranking of individual strikers.
A betting game
When the game of Hornussen started, the losing party had to pay for afternoon refreshments after the match. Today, players place bets on the outcome and usually amount to CHF 50–100 per game. Bets are also customary when playing the game on a friendly basis. It is also common for individual players of similar skill levels to wager a beer on the scores.
The Hornuss or Nouss was originally a disk made of wood or horn which was hit into the playing field. There are several interpretations of the meaning of the word Hornuss and all refer to the hornet-like buzzing sound made by the Nouss. Measurements from the Biomechanical Institute at the ETH Zurich showed that the Hornuss reaches speeds of up to 306 km/h, a cruising altitude of 50–70m, and a flight range of up to 330m.
When Hornussen was first played, it was mainly a game for young single farmers. They met in the late summer or autumn to play on harvested fields against farmers from other villages. Such events enabled the players to pit their strength against each other and regulate disputes between villages. Despite playful attempts at arbitration, the Hornussen games often concluded with wild brawls.
The first records of Hornussen are in church records from the 16th and 17th centuriese. The first competitive Hornussen game took place in 1655 in Trub. In the late 19th century, an association established and set the rules of Hornussen. In 1902, the national governing body (Eidgenössischer Hornusserverband) was founded.
This national association and its regional sub-organizations organize the championships for the various leagues, the three-yearly national Hornussen festival, plus the Hornussen matches at the national wrestling and Alpine festivals as well as at other festivals.
The game of Hornussen today
Hornussen is mainly played in the Mittelland cantons of Bern, Solothurn and Aargau. Hornussen enjoys popularity to this day, and despite the huge range of different sports on offer is a great success – a success also explained by the close links between the sporting and traditional elements. In 2011, there were around 270 Hornussen groups with some 8,300 players in four associations and societies. All of the associations have an affiliation with the national governing body.