Touch Switzerland looking to get back on to the pitch soon

May 11, 2021 @ 9:00 UTC

The emerging Swiss have big plans to take on some of the best in Touch at the next Euros with its women's Open team expecting to challenge for semifinal spots.

The Touch community in Switzerland were able to play the sport they love for about five months last year until Covid-19 restrictions were re-introduced in October. They have been able to conduct skills and fitness sessions in small physically distanced groups in the interim. 

 Just recently, under 20 players were allowed to resume full training and competition play.

 It is hoped that the government will further relax restrictions to allow for a complete restart in the next few weeks. “I can’t wait to get started,” said Swiss Women’s Open coach Rebecca Fitzgerald, when she spoke to Adam Collins for a recent ‘Set of Six’ episode. 

Rebecca was joined for the conversation by Jim Weston, who is the Youth Development Coordinator for Touch Switzerland. 

Female players coming to the fore

 According to Rebecca Fitzgerald, the women’s game in Switzerland is on the cusp of something really exciting. Last year Touch Switzerland held the first-ever regional tournament for Women’s Open and Men’s Open teams. “Women were the drivers of that competition.”

As the National Women’s Open coach Rebecca is thrilled so many talented young girls are coming through who will very soon challenge for spots in senior teams. Her goal is to succeed at the 2022 Euros in Nottingham, “I would like to see a competitive Women’s team there. We want to challenge the top 4 or 5 teams. From what I have seen, there is a lot of talent there.”

One of the interesting challenges that Rebecca has when coaching her Women’s Open team is the fact that she has to coach in multiple languages, “You have a team which is French-speaking, German-speaking, you have some Italian speakers, and there is English.” Rebecca sees this as an advantage for her team, “People make an effort to ensure there is a common understanding.”

Junior development made challenging by a lack of access to schools

Youth Development Coordinator for Touch Switzerland Jim Weston would love to gain access for Touch into schools. However, it is proving to be a challenge. “It’s not that easy getting in to the Swiss schools. We haven’t had a huge amount of support from the schools.” This is mainly due to the fact that “Often they don’t play sport in school. They do their competitive sport in the clubs.” 

Touch Switzerland is certainly not giving up in its quest for access to schools. As Rebecca Fitzgerald noted, “I’m quite hopeful that we’ll be able to get in to schools. It’s for us to work out how do we get that access.”

The development of junior Touch is, therefore, at present taking place in the clubs. A strong relationship has been fostered over time with rugby, with many players and some coaches involved in both sports. “Rugby has been very accommodating and happy for us to get involved. They see the skills and fitness as a huge benefit to rugby,” said Jim Weston. 

Pitch squeeze

Switzerland is a small country in western Europe with a land area of about 41,000 square kilometres. That makes it about the same size as The Netherlands. Unlike the relatively flat terrain of Holland, Switzerland is home to the soaring peaks of the Swiss alps. Land for sporting facilities is at a premium according to Jim Weston, which does have an impact on Touch, “Switzerland isn’t a big country, it doesn’t have a lot of space. A lot of it is mountainous. To get time on the pitch is not easy.” 

Competition with other sports for access to playing fields is also intense, especially with football. Touch Switzerland’s strong relationship with rugby has been helpful, with rugby actively assisting Touch in gaining much needed time on the pitch. 

More refs needed

Referees are essential for playing Touch, and they are in short supply in Switzerland, according to Jim Weston, “We’ve got to the stage where we have about 600 players, but we don’t have many refs.” During the Covid-19 lockdown Touch Switzerland have been running online refereeing courses, which proved successful. “Doing it online is better than doing it in person because you can get more people involved.” Convincing people to referee instead of playing can be a challenge said Jim, “It’s a really difficult balance to get right because everyone wants to play.”

Real progress from small beginnings

When Touch started in Switzerland in 2005, “It was just a bunch of people throwing a ball around,” said Jim. Now in 2021, there are ten clubs, a growing junior talent base, and elite level ambition. Rebecca Fitzgerald and Jim Weston will be an integral part of the story of the sport in the future in Switzerland, and as such, there is little doubt that Switzerland will become a force in European Touch.