The Gymnast and the Shepherd

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  • Title: The Gymnast and the Shepherd: The Invention of a National Games’ Tradition in Switzerland
  • Author(s): Gil Mayencourt
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Common Ground Open
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Sport and Society
  • Keywords: History, Transnational, Switzerland, Traditional Games, Turnen, Wrestling, Schwingen, Gymnastics
  • Volume: 13
  • Issue: 2
  • Date: November 29, 2022
  • ISSN: 2152-7857 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2152-7865 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Mayencourt, Gil. 2022. "The Gymnast and the Shepherd: The Invention of a National Games’ Tradition in Switzerland." The International Journal of Sport and Society 13 (2): 1-21. doi:10.18848/2152-7857/CGP/v13i02/1-21.
  • Extent: 21 pages

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The cultural and institutional history of Helvetic national games (in particular, Swiss wrestling, or “Schwingen,” and stone-throwing) reveals several paradoxes that call into question their rural and traditional storybook image widely conveyed by the Société fédérale de gymnastique (SFG 1833) and the Association fédérale de lutte suisse (AFLS 1895) since the nineteenth century. On the basis of original archival funds combining institutional documents, specialized press, and iconographic material, this article firstly highlights the striking discrepancy between the significance of the rural symbolism of national games for the mostly urban Swiss gymnasts and the very low factual representation of peasants in the nineteenth-century SFG’s membership. Secondly, the analysis shows the importance of the invention of a national games tradition in the assertion of the patriotic dimension of the SFG after the foundation of the 1848 Swiss nation-state, whereas modern gymnastics developed mainly in Switzerland thanks to a cultural transfer from the Germanic Confederation. Finally, we highlight how Swiss gymnasts mobilized to safeguard the “authenticity” of national games, which they felt were threatened by modernity (commodification, tourism, cosmopolitanism), but also how they codified and institutionalized these traditional physical practices according to criteria that are fully in line with the theories of “sportivization” and the definition of modern sports.