PRODUCED IN ASSOCIATION WITH SWITZERLAND TOURISM

Trail Of The Unexpected: Swiss Sports

'The fielders try to catch or stop the ball with a shovel'

For reasons best-known to themselves, the Swiss have a number of indigenous sports that are medieval in their rules and the traditions that surround them. In other countries mock battles involving participants in traditional costume would be purely for the tourists. Here, whole communities take part, cheering on their favourites and indulging in a hearty meal and lots of drinking when the event is over.

For reasons best-known to themselves, the Swiss have a number of indigenous sports that are medieval in their rules and the traditions that surround them. In other countries mock battles involving participants in traditional costume would be purely for the tourists. Here, whole communities take part, cheering on their favourites and indulging in a hearty meal and lots of drinking when the event is over.

These sports include a surprising range of activities. On 2 May, the residents of Sion - and any curious visitors - will be able to enjoy the final of the Cantonal Cow Fight ( www.wallis.ch). A number of qualifying rounds will already have been held by then. On the day of the final, the beasts who have made it this far will slug it out in the hope of being crowned cantonal queen in front of an audience of up to 10,000 spectators. During the weekend of 28-29 May, Mendrisio in the Ticino will be celebrating the Palio degli Asini ( www.paliodimendrisio.ch), a weekend of mule racing and feasting as donkeys from different parts of town compete against each other.

However, most of the sports require human participation. The following are a selection of the most popular and unusual.

SCHWINGEN

This old form of Alpine wrestling is extremely popular. Competitions are accompanied by a lively market and lots of beer-drinking. Schwingen originated among Swiss herdsmen, as a form of exercise and as a way to prove their physical superiority. Participants wear special shorts over their trousers; these have a slit at the back, allowing each competitor to keep a grip on his opponent. The aim of the game is to land your opponent on his back with both his shoulder blades on the ground, while still holding on to his shorts. Each round lasts about 10 minutes with points awarded at the end. The winner is decided at the end of six rounds. A National Wrestling Festival is held every three years, but the most famous is the Unspunnen Festival (00 41 33 826 53 53; www.unspunnenfest.ch). This will take place in Interlaken from 2-4 September, and events will include yodelling and throwing the Unspunnen stone.

HORNUSSEN

This cross between baseball and rounders is played with two teams of up to 18 players who throw an oval-shaped rubber ball into the air and hit it with a long, flexible pole. The ball is known as a hornuss, or hornet, for the noise it makes as it whizzes through the air at up to 200 miles an hour. The fielders try to catch the ball, or stop it in its tracks, with a flat, wooden shovel. The Swiss have been playing Hornussen for at least four centuries. Far from being a historical relic it has many fans and there are several hundred clubs in the federal Hornussen association.

KNABENSCHIESSEN

The youth sport of rifle shooting is a custom dating back to the 17th century when boys were expected to practice their shooting during the summer holidays before taking part in a competition. This has developed into an annual event, organised by the Riflemen's Association and held in Zürich on the second weekend in September (10-12 September this year). Traditionally, boys aged between 12 and 16 were eligible to take part. The competition is now also open to girls and the best of the competitors is named Schutzenkonig or King of the Marksmen. The rifles that are used in the competition are identical to the ones the boys will be issued with when they join the army.

Knabenschiessen (00 41 44 462 99 55; www.knabenschiessen.ch) is one of the oldest festivals in Switzerland, and is held on the Albisguetli, at Uetlibergstrasse 341. The shooting competition is only part of the celebrations, the main event in a weekend carnival of music, dancing and fairground rides.

YODELLING

Yodelling may have originated as far back as the Stone Age; it has certainly been influenced by the calls of traditional herdsmen rounding up their animals, and by wandering minstrels who came to Switzerland from other parts of Europe. These tunes, songs without words, were usually performed by a single, unaccompanied voice, but now some yodel songs are sung by several voices and accompanied by a concertina.

These days flag throwing, a sport introduced into Switzerland from Europe by medieval mercenaries, is closely associated with yodelling. Flag throwers take part in a separate competition that forms part of the Federal Yodelling Festival. Flag throwers use around 50 basic moves, which involve swinging the flag backwards and forwards, before throwing it into the air, in a three- minute programme.

The next national yodelling competition will be held on 21 May at Aarau, and an audience of 100,000 spectators is expected to attend.

Cathy Packe

MAJOR SPORTING EVENTS

The Tour de Suisse cycling tournament is 1350km long, lasting from 11-19 June ( www.tds.ch). It begins in the far north, and ends at Ulrichen, in the Valais.

The Swiss Open tennis tournament in the Roy Emerson Arena in Gstaad has been part of the sporting calendar for 90 years. The tournament takes place this year from 2-10 July, and tickets are available online at www.swissopengstaad.com or by telephone within Switzerland (0900 61 62 63). Prices start at SFr20 (£9) for opening rounds.

The Golden League Weltklasse Athletics Grand Prix (0041 84 820 03 15; www.weltklasse.ch) takes place at the Letzigrund Stadium in Zürich on 19 August. Blocks of tickets will be released at 11am on 18 May, 20 June, and 12 July; they will cost SFr115 (£52). Standing tickets will be available at SFr40 (£18) from 1 April from the Weltklasse office at Zurcherstrasse 46 (00 41 52 269 59 59).

The European Masters Golf tournament, which will be held at the Crans-sur Sierre course in Crans-Montana (00 41 27 485 97 97; www.omegaeuropeanmasters.com) from 1-4 September, is part of the PGA European tour. Prices for the opening round last year cost SFr45 (£20.25).

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