Switzerland most often brings the Alps, medieval towns, cheese fondue, and chocolate to mind. But the Alpine nation sandwiched between five other countries is not to be overlooked in the world of sports. Reportedly, one in every four Swiss nationals is a member of a sports club.
Sports in Switzerland include international favorites like football and some that are exclusive to the Swiss culture. They may be unheard of in other parts of the world.
If you’re planning on spending any amount of time in Switzerland, it will pay to be familiar with the country’s most popular sports. In no particular order, here’s a brief introduction.
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The most popular sport in Switzerland is football. No exception.
The Swiss love both playing and watching football. About 10,000 matches take place across the country every weekend.
The two major football leagues are the Swiss Challenge One and the Super Swiss League. And the most popular teams in the country include Basel FC, BSC Young Boys, Grasshoppers Club Zurich, and FC Lugano.
So far, Swiss major football teams haven’t experienced much international success but have made it to the World Cup’s final rounds. The team has participated in five different UEFA European Championships and 11 different FIFA World Cups. Nicknamed the “Nati,” the national team is very popular.
The Swiss Football Association has existed since 1895. In 1904, the Association was a founder member of the sport’s international governing body FIFA. Zurich is home to FIFA and the European governing body UEFA is based in Nyon.
Alexander Frei, Xherdan Shaqiri, Heinz Hermann, Yann Sommer, and Hakan Yakın are some of the most famous players.
Ice Hockey is Switzerland’s favorite sport, and the Swiss are very good at it. The Ice Hockey World Championships have been held here at least 10 times and the national team won two silver medals at the event in both 2013 and 2017.
The Ice Hockey National League fills stadiums with thousands of spectators, and fans of the sport watch it religiously on TV. Twelve teams make up the National Leagues and the games are the most attended in Europe. There are around 11,000 ice hockey matches played each year across the country and a total of 850 individual teams. Yes, it is that popular!
Ice Hockey is a sport of its own in Switzerland and is more popular than winter sports as a whole. Although it’s traditionally a winter sport, games are also held in spring and late summer.
The mountainous town of Davos is home to the most impressive stadium for the sport. Games are played in an open area rather than a closed one for a more traditional vibe.
Some of the most famous ice hockey players include Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz, Roman Josi, Jonas Hiller, and Nino Niederreiter.
Schwingen is an old Alpine wrestling sport that grew out of wrestling festivals. The exact origin of the sport is unclear but there is evidence that it could date all the way back to the 13th century. A cathedral in Lausanne has a depiction showing one of the typical grips.
In some parts of Switzerland, participants wrestled for a sheep or other natural objects at festivals and in taverns. The sport was renewed in 1805 at the Alpine Sheperd’s Festival in Unspunnen.
The game involves two competitors engaging in a dual and wrestling in a ring of sawdust. Only a few throws were used originally but the game is quite complicated today with around 100 throws detailed in the official manual.
Schwingen remains an amateur sport with strict rules for sponsorship and bans advertising.
Since Switzerland is known as the Land of the Alps, and the Swiss have a very active lifestyle. So, it’s no surprise that all types of winter sports are popular. Skiing and snowboarding are the most popular.
Snowshoeing is growing in popularity at the resorts in the Alps and the Jura. It used to be something that most people rarely considered. However, in the last decade, I have noticed more and more people with snow shoes on the train and out in the mountains. Perhaps that is why there are more and more mountain rescues than ever before.
Ice skating is a popular pastime among the Swiss with both indoor and outdoor rinks in not only major cities but also local towns throughout the country.
Then, there is the slightly more dangerous, but equally popular tobogganing. Most Swiss families will have one sled or even three stored in their cellar. And in winter they are used on winter holidays, and even on local hills when the snow hits the lower climes.
Like baseball is as American as apple pie, skiing in Switzerland is as Swiss as the towering Alps. The famous mountain range is a big part of the nation’s identity and skiing is its national sport. It’s a major winter sport and pastime, but it’s also very competitive, and the Swiss are very good at it. Swiss ski athletes have brought home a total of 59 Olympic medals, including many gold medals.
Skiing in Switzerland isn’t just for Olympic athletes. Approximately 40 percent of the population claims to ski regularly. The landscape and climate offer them great opportunities. The season generally runs from November to March. The higher elevations have skiing until April, and you can ski year-round on a few high-altitude pistes
Switzerland has some of the world’s best ski resorts. Some of the best on the list include Zermatt, St. Moritz, Verbier, Arosa Andermatt, and Davos Klosters.
Of course, the Swiss don’t just love downhill skiing either. They also love getting out and doing some strenuous cross-country skiing and the uphill version, which is called ski touring.
The history of tennis in Switzerland dates back to the middle ages. Once lawn tennis came about, the Swiss embraced the sport, and the Swiss Open, a clay court tournament, was founded in 1898. In 2014, they finally won the Davis Cup after regularly producing Davis Cup players since 1923.
Today, tennis is one of the top sports in Switzerland after football, ice hockey, and skiing. The country has produced several tennis superstars over the years such as Roger Federer (one of the most famous people in Switzerland), Martina Hingis, and Stan Wawrinka. But today, legendary Swiss tennis athletes are on the decline, and the sport is mainly played for fun with around 4,000 teams playing in tournaments every year.
Not only does Switzerland produce great tennis players, but they host some world-class tournaments as well. The Swiss Open Gstaad held in Gstaad is played on outdoor clay courts and is a part of the ATP Tour schedule. On top of that, the Swiss Indoor tournament held in Basel is the most attended.
Like Schwingen, Hornussen is a traditional Swiss Alpine sport. Young farmers used to form teams and compete against other villages. The sport is basically a combination of baseball and golf. Today, it’s mostly played in specific regions of the country like canton Bern, and in central and eastern Switzerland.
Hornussen and Schwingen aren’t as popular as sports like skiing, football, tennis, and ice hockey, however, the games are still important for many of the Swiss. For tourists and visitors like us, they are fun to watch and help us learn more about Swiss culture and history.
Basketball is not a hugely popular sport in Switzerland. Back in the 50s they certainly did well on the European stage, however not a lot has happened for the national team since then.
The good news for basketball lovers is, it’s on the rise again. Today, basketball ranks fourth as the most popular sport in Switzerland. And you’ll find plenty of exciting games to attend. The popularity of the sport is largely thanks to the success of Switzerland’s NBA recruits, along with a large portion of Swiss youth.
Clint Capela, an NBA star is the highest-paid athlete in Switzerland’s sports history. Some other names in basketball to be aware of include Thabo Sefolosha, Clint Capela, Roberto Kovac, Arnaud Cotture, Marko Mlađan, Michel-Ofik Nzege, and Jonathan Dubas.
Some teams to put on your radar include Vevey Riviera Basket, Lugano Tigers, and the BC Boncourt.
Switzerland has produced several top-notch race car drivers. IndyCar racer Simona de Silvestro and Formula E champion and multiple-time LeMan’s winner Sebastien Buemi are two that come to mind. There have also been some racing teams like Formula 1 midfielders Sauber Rebellion in the World Endurance Championship.
Switzerland banned motor racing after the Le Man’s disaster of 1955 in which Pierre Levagh’s Mercedes caught fire after skipping over tire barriers. Debris fired into the crowd killing 83 spectators as well as Levagh and wounding 180 others. Although the incident took place in France, the Swiss government banned all forms of motor racing deeming it too dangerous.
However, after 67 years, the Chamber of Cantons recently voted to overturn it with several rule changes, so look for motorsport to come back with fervor. Also on the rise are motocross, rallying, and trials.
Rugby isn’t as popular in Switzerland as football, basketball, ice hockey, and all the other sports but it does have a decent following. Rugby union is considered to be a major sport in Switzerland and its governing body is the Swiss Rugby Federation founded in 1972. In 1988 it joined the IRFB.
You’ll find over 50 clubs across Switzerland that offer rugby for kids, youths, and adults. The rules are easy to learn, and it’s an exciting, action-packed sport.
The Rugby union has over 5,000 registered players. It operates the League A, League B, League C, and League 1 national championships.
Some famous Swiss names in rugby you may hear include Jean-Marc Morand, Viktor von Burg, Donovan O’Grady, Pedro Dubois, Ludovic Keller, and Didier Richard
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the main sport in Switzerland?
The most popular sport in Switzerland is football. It is both played and watched by millions of people in the country. However, in winter, the next most popular sport would be skiing.
Does Switzerland have a national sport?
The sport most identified with Switzerland would have to be skiing. With so much of the country covered by mountains and ski resorts, nearly every Swiss citizen skis or has skied at some stage of their life.
What winter sports are in Switzerland?
Some of the most popular winter sports in Switzerland include alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, ice skating and ice hockey.
What sports is Switzerland best at?
The sports that Switzerland is the best at would have to be alpine skiing, tennis and gymnastics. Other sports that Switzerland is very competitive in include football, ice hockey and mountain biking.