Street photographer Susanne Baumgartner turns her candid lens on women wrestling in the traditional Swiss sport of Schwingen
This is an ongoing project about the traditional Swiss sport “Schwingen,” a type of wrestling. In spring it is held indoors, in summer outdoors. The object is to get the opponent down on their back, and the one who touches the ground with their back first, loses the game. The winner must still clutch the wrestling-shorts with at least one hand, and the opponent must touch the ground with both shoulder blades, or two-thirds of the back. The techniques are several throws, which are also seen in other wrestling styles. The rink is a circle, made of sawdust (up to 14 meters wide, 10 meters for women,) and sometimes that can be pretty though, especially when competitors have their whole face buried in the sawdust. The wrestling shorts are worn over normal clothes, and are and made of a very strong, dense and tear-resistant garment, cotton or linen. Apart from the kids, there are no categories in weight, height or age! One competition lasts usually five rounds, one round lasting about five minutes, and the final round can be longer. By tradition, before and after the fight, the opponents shake hands, and at the end the winner must brush the sawdust off the loser’s back.
The tradition probably goes back to the 13th Century, as depicted on a picture in an old church in Lausanne. The trophy for the winners is not money, but a young bull, maybe a filly or cattle.
Traditionally Schwingen was only a male sport, but in 1980, women had their first event, and so this is a more recent phenomenon. The Women-Schwing-Association was established in 1992, and its recognition in the public is still very low. The association has only 130 members, half of them young girls between 6 and 15. Men crown the Schwinger-König (King) every three years during a special, very big event. For women, the Königin (Queen) coronation is every year, with the best Schwingerin in five events winning that title.
My idea was to get a little series about the women, but after a few events, I realized the scene is very small, with only a handful of young ladies. Because of the small crowd, it was impossible to stay invisible, in order to photograph the way I like to do it–candidly. The men’s scene is much bigger, and is becoming quite popular lately.
This year I went to several events, both for men and women and I must say, women are as enthusiastic, powerful and passionate about this sport as men!