Two women wrestling

Women’s Swiss wrestling

Does the Swiss wrestling ‘queen’ also receive a bull as a prize?

The female Swiss wrestlers are stepping onto the sawdust again this week. Nine surprising facts as the season kicks off.

Jörg Marquardt

When did women start Swiss wrestling?

Officially, on 17 August 1980 – the day the first Swiss wrestling festival for women took place at Aeschi bei Spiez (canton of Bern), with more than 70 female wrestlers taking part. “Some of them wrestled at home prior to this, often with a brother”, says Natalie Siffert, spokeswoman for the Women’s Swiss Wrestling Association (EFSV). Despite hostility in the run-up to the festival, the event enjoyed popular success, attracting a crowd of over 15,000, and was the prelude to regular women’s Swiss wrestling festivals. The first official ‘Swiss wrestling queen’ was crowned in 1989, while the EFSV was founded in 1992.

How many female Swiss wrestlers are there?

There are currently five official women’s Swiss wrestling clubs in Switzerland as well as numerous private training communities. “The number of active female Swiss wrestlers stands at just under 200, of which two thirds are adolescents”, says Siffert. By way of comparison, there are around 6,000 active male Swiss wrestlers, including juniors. Women’s Swiss wrestling is increasing in popularity, however, with more and more young female wrestlers entering the fray since the coronavirus restrictions were lifted. As for the audiences, there is still room for improvement – women’s Swiss wrestling festivals attract crowds of between 500 and 600 people on average. “But we have had attendances of up to 3,000 – it depends on the region”, adds Siffert.

Are there separate rules for the women?

The same wrestling rules apply. The biggest difference is that the women crown a wrestling queen every year, whereas the men only crown their king once every three years. In addition, performances over the entire season have determined who is crowned the queen to date. From this year onwards, however, the winner of the final festival will be crowned the queen. “We stick closely to the men’s rules”, says Siffert. But there are limits – since 2022, the officials have had to carry out checks to ensure that the men are wearing their shorts correctly. “We are not adopting this change, as it could make the women feel uncomfortable”. Particularly since there have been hardly any female officials to date.

Do the women have special outfits?

No. Women and men wear the same robust shorts, made of ticking, by which they grab each other during the duel. Some 95 per cent of the female wrestlers belong to a pure wrestling club. Like their male counterparts, they wear dark trousers under their shorts and, in most cases, an edelweiss shirt. The remaining five per cent of the female wrestlers belong to gymnastics clubs. In addition to the shorts made of ticking, they wear only white clothing – and they do not belong to a pure wrestling club.

Are long hair and fingernails allowed?

Yes, as a rule. But the EFSV introduced a ruling in 2020, stating that hair needs to be tied up. “The officials were finding it increasingly difficult to tell whether an opponent was actually lying on her back”, says Siffert. Long fingernails are allowed but not advisable. “The forces involved when grabbing or grappling are so great that nails could get badly torn or broken”.

What type of wreath does the winner receive?

As the wrestler of the year, the Swiss wrestling queen receives a golden wreath made of oak leaves, while the second- and third-placed wrestlers get a silver and bronze wreath, respectively. In the case of the men, however, the golden wreath is reserved for wrestlers who have won 100 wreaths in their career.

Does the Swiss wrestling ‘queen’ also receive a bull as a prize?

No, at most a foal or a calf. That’s because a breeding bull can cost up to 50,000 Swiss francs – and there has not been that much prize money in women’s Swiss wrestling to date. At the Swiss wrestling festival for women and girls in 2022, the prizes and gifts had a combined value of around 25,000 Swiss francs. At last year’s Swiss wrestling and Alpine festival (ESAF) in Pratteln, however, the total value of the prizes for the men exceeded one million Swiss francs.

Are there any ‘honorary men’ at the women’s Swiss wrestling festival?

Yes, but they don’t have the same status as the twelve honorary women at the ESAF – they neither go through casting, nor do they have a special festive costume. But the female wrestlers kneel before the honorary men, just as the male wrestlers do before the honorary women. At some festivals, well-known wrestlers crown the top three contestants and often wear a traditional Bernese jacket, called a “Mutz”. If the honorary men come from the EFSV or from the festival organisers’ entourage, everyday clothing is the norm.

Which preconceptions and clichés are hard to dispel?

“We still often hear people say that the sport is too brutal for women”, says Siffert. The ‘breasts pressed together’ cliché is equally hard to dispel”. But such voices are becoming increasingly rare, and acceptance for women’s wrestling is constantly on the rise – including on the wrestling scene itself. Women can now train alongside men at most wrestling clubs, for instance. Ultimately, it’s the grappling technique that wins the day – irrespective of gender. There is one anatomical aspect that sets the men apart from the women, though: “They will never have the same speed strength”.

Migros becomes ‘partner to the queen’

Migros is increasing its commitment to the sport of Swiss wrestling and will in future also support women and girls who take to the sawdust. As the main sponsor of the EFSV, it wants to help make women’s Swiss wrestling more popular. The focus of the three-year commitment is the annual Swiss wrestling festival for women and girls, which marks the end of the women’s Swiss wrestling season. The wrestler who wins this on 2 September 2023 in Grächen (canton of Valais) will be crowned the wrestling ‘queen’.