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What is the secret to Switzerland’s Olympic success?

Switzerland has 12 medals - three of them gold - and counting, which is already one of the best results in history. For a diverse nation with a small population, why is Switzerland suddenly good at sports?

What is the secret to Switzerland's Olympic success?
Switzerland has already doubled its medal tally from the 2016 games. Photo: Tiziana FABI / AFP

On Saturday, Belinda Bencic managed something that Swiss tennis superstars Roger Federer and Martina Hingis were unable to do in their long careers – win Olympic gold. 

But the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – taking place of course in 2021 due to the Covid pandemic – have not just been successful for Bencic. 

As at Monday, August 2nd, Switzerland has won three gold medals along with four silver and five bronze. 

With 12 total medals, this places Switzerland at 15th on the tally, just between Canada and Brazil. 

With more medal chances to come, it’s already become Switzerland’s most successful games since at least the 1952 games in Helsinki, when Switzerland won 14 medals. 

With six days to go, Switzerland has already eclipsed its target of seven medals and could also eclipse the Helsinki mark. 

In fact, it’s not without question that Switzerland could eclipse its mark of 20 medals at the 1948 London Olympics, although the best ever result of 25 at the Paris 1924 games seems out of reach. 

Why is Switzerland suddenly good at sports? 

Other than a few outliers – including the aforementioned Federer and Hingis – Switzerland’s sporting success has been relatively minimal historically. 

In addition to Olympic medals, Switzerland’s Euro 2020 campaign saw them beat favourites France to advance to the quarter finals, where they lost to Spain on penalties. 

‘We don’t like France, Germany or Italy’: How linguistic diversity unites Swiss football fans

One major reason is Switzerland’s women, which is perhaps pertinent that 2021 is the 50-year anniversary of women winning the vote. 

EXPLAINED: What happened after Swiss women got the right to vote in 1971?

Swiss women have won nine of the 12 medals at this years olympics, including all three gold. 

Two Swiss women have made it to the final of the women’s 100 metres, Ajla Del Ponte and Mujinga Kambundji, the pinnacle of athletics at the games. 

And while it might appear to be a coincidence – or one motivated by the anniversary of (almost) universal suffrage – in typical Swiss fashion there’s actually a lot of planning and organisation behind the seeming coincidence. 

“Overwhelming” success spurred on by women’s sport programs

Switzerland’s olympic success – and particularly that of the women – has come about by design. 

The Swiss lottery (Swisslos) supports sport and other cultural programs throughout the country.

In 2020, Swisslos transferred CHF429 million to sporting and cultural areas, of which CHF140 million went directly to sport, supporting 5,000 sporting organisations in the process. 

In successive decades, the Swiss national olympic sport organisation Swiss Olympic has been continually supported by state funds, but has also been guaranteed independence from government in operating decisions in order to ensure sporting development is the major focus. 

Swiss Olympic was given an extra CHF30 million in 2018 – an amount that has been given again each year since. 

Federal Councilor and Minister of Sport Viola Amherd has made women’s sport a central priority in Switzerland, with the country developing several ways of supporting women in sport. 

Amherd has called upon all major Swiss sporting associations to support women’s sport wherever possible, while threatening those that don’t with a cut in funding. 

This has been matched by a continued focus by the International Olympic Committee, who have added more female and mixed disciplines to its program this year. 

Several Swiss female Olympians are currently a part of the Swiss army, where they receive financial support and can work flexible hours to allow them time to train and compete. 

Shooter Nina Christen, who won gold and bronze at this Olympics, is a member of the military, as are medal-winning cyclists Jolanda Neff, Sina Frei and Linda Indergand. 

In total there are 410 athletes who are a part of the military in some form. 

The chief of the Olympic mission Ralph Stöckli said the “overwhelming” success of the Swiss olympians could be credited to the focus on women athletes. 

“It didn’t exist in this form in the past. The advancement of women is now paying off.”

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Who is Hansjörg Wyss, the Swiss billionaire in line to buy Chelsea FC?

According to media reports, Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss is set to buy Chelsea FC, with the club put up for sale as a likely consequence of sanctions on Russia. But who is he - and is the sale likely to happen?

Who is Hansjörg Wyss, the Swiss billionaire in line to buy Chelsea FC?

The Ukraine conflict and Russian sanctions have forced Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s hand, with the Russian billionaire announcing he is set to sell the club he has owned for two decades. 

The motivation for the deal has been intensely debated, with some arguing Abramovich is looking to protect his best-known asset from Russian sanctions, the identity of a prospective buyer has emerged: Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss. 

Wyss told the media on Tuesday he’d been sounded out about a potential purchase, telling Swiss tabloid Blick “like all the other oligarchs, he is panicked. Abramovich is currently trying to sell all his villas in England. He also wants to get rid of Chelsea quickly.”

Who is Hansjörg Wyss and how did he make his billions? 

Wyss, 86, was born in Bern in 1935 and later moved to Zurich where he studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. 

He came from relatively modest beginnings, with his father a calculator salesman and his mother a writer. His sister, Hedi Wyss, is also a writer. 

Wyss later relocated to the United States, where he has lived since the 1960s. 

German magazine Welt notes he spent much of his life “as a phantom”, rarely giving interviews and living incognito on a large property in the US state of Wyoming. 

Like many billionaires Wyss has several sources of income, although his main money spinner was the medical device company Synthes. 

Wyss founded Synthes in the 1970s and oversaw its growth, before selling it for approximately CHF20 billion to pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson in 2012. 

How much money does Wyss have and can he afford Chelsea?

Despite his significant income, Wyss’ net worth is estimated at ‘only’ CHF5.3 billion as at 2022. 

Wyss has donated hundreds of millions of francs over the years to a variety of causes, including climate and conservation initiatives, while he also makes significant contributions to universities like Harvard and Cambridge. 

Forbes magazine described Wyss as “one of the most philanthropic people in the world”. 

While that might sound like an awful lot of money, it is unlikely Wyss can afford Chelsea on his own. 

While Abramovich bought Chelsea for roughly CHF180 million in 2003, the club has been valued as high as CHF4.9 billion. 

Given the amount of money necessary to keep a club running – Abramovic is believed to have invested CHF1.8 billion into the club over the years – it is clear that Wyss would be unable to purchase the club on his own. 

Wyss has admitted as much, with the Bernese telling Blick he has asked Abramovich to lower the asking price. 

“We do not yet know the exact sale price. I can very well imagine myself joining Chelsea with partners. First I have to look carefully at the conditions. 

“I certainly wouldn’t do such a thing alone. If I buy Chelsea, it will be with a consortium of six to seven investors.”

While the exact identity of the others remains unclear at this point, Blick reports Todd Boehly, owner of baseball side the LA Dodgers is likely to be one member of the ownership consortium. 

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