Flag throwers perform their art to the accompaniment of alphorn or bugles at such folkloric occasions as the Alpine carnivals and the yodeling and Schwingen festivals or on the National Day on 1 August.
From tradition to competition
The custom of flag throwing was a privilege reserved for the urban guilds from the Middle Ages onwards and was also introduced by soldiers returning to Switzerland from countries in southern Europe. Since 1914, flag throwing has been promoted by the Swiss Yodeling Association and rules introduced. In 1935, 55 flag throwers performed before a selection committee and by 1964 there were already 675 flag throwers. At the Swiss Yodeling Festival in 2005 in Aarau each three-minute programme was assessed. There is no Swiss champion for flag throwing, as the respective winners are chosen from four categories of points. The judges are appointed from among Switzerland’s finest flag throwers and instructed by the foreman in accordance with specified guidelines. Honorific titles such as Swiss champion, flag throwing king or even Olympic flag wavers are rejected.
Flag throwing involves swinging a silk flag of a prescribed size and shape (120 x 120cm) back and forth on a short staff and then throwing it into the air and catching it by the staff as it comes down. What might appear to festival visitors as being so easy and "casual" is actually a continuously performed selection from over 90 regulated swings. In addition to the two grips there are body swings, plate swings, medium-high swings, leg and body combinations and passes for duets. The names of some of the moves usually come from an area where there is a strong tradition of flag throwing, with the real stronghold of this sport being Central Switzerland. For example, the "Pilatus thrust" is the name of one of the more attractive high swings.
Flag throwing requires great concentration and so to ensure that the viewers remain attentive it is accompanied by alphorn music although the throwing and the alphorn playing are not rhythmically co-ordinated.