“Swiss wrestling in Upper Valais sadly neglected” was the title of an article in the Walliser Bote (Valais Herald) on 14 May 1969. This changed in 2014. On the weekend of 12 to 14 September 2014, employees of the Gornergrat Railway and numerous external helpers organised the first Swiss wrestling festival at Riffelberg at 2,582 m.a.s.l.
Wrestlers and spectators were thrilled at the sight of the unique Swiss wrestling arena in the autumnal mountain panorama. And the event in Zermatt had the support of the Swiss Wrestling Association. The top 4 Swiss wrestlers Matthias Sempach, Jörg Abderhalden, Matthias Glarner and Niklaus Zenger took part.
Promotion of Swiss wrestling in Valais
The Swiss wrestling champions Abderhalden and Sempach introduced 60 girls and boys to the sport of wrestling at Riffelberg on 12 September. A panel discussion was also held in front of the crowds, chaired by sports presenter Steffi Buchli. Everyone agreed: Swiss wrestling suits Valais perfectly. This is why Swiss wrestling should be revived in the region. Although there were three Swiss wrestling clubs in Upper Valais (Leukerbad, Mörel and St. Niklaus), they did not have any active wrestlers in 2014.
On 13 September, around 50 wrestlers fought for victory in sawdust at Riffelberg. Matthias Glarner from Switzerland comfortably won the first Gornergrat wrestling festival with 6 wins and 60 points.
The programme and the mild temperatures also attracted a large audience on 14 September. The South Korean Ssireum wrestlers surprised with some inspired techniques. It is interesting to note that the grips and rules of Ssireum are almost identical to those of Swiss wrestling.
Over 10,000 spectators watched the exciting competitions over the three days. The event was rounded off with an Air Zermatt air show.
Upper Valais wrestling club
In the end, the sport of Swiss wrestling regained a foothold in Upper Valais. In November 2016, the delegates of the Cantonal Wrestling Association of Valais decided to admit the newly founded Schwingklub Oberwallis (Upper Valais wrestling club) to the association. The first training sessions took place at the agricultural school in Visp. On 30 September 2020, Schwingklub Oberwallis finally received the building permit to build its own hall in Visp.
The positive developments in Swiss wrestling in Upper Valais were thus also triggered by the Swiss wrestling festival at Riffelberg.