For members


Young Boys: The story behind the Swiss football team’s strange name

The age and the gender notwithstanding, why are the Swiss football champions called ‘Young Boys’? Here’s the story behind one of football’s strangest names.

Young Boys: The story behind the Swiss football team’s strange name

Winners of four consecutive Swiss championships, BSC Young Boys made headlines the world over in September 2021 after beating a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Manchester United 2-1 in the Champions League. 

For some based outside of Switzerland, it might have been the first time they’d heard the name “Young Boys of Bern”, or at least the first time they realised it wasn’t a nickname but the genuine name of the club. 

Inside Switzerland however, few would not have heard the name. 

Besides the side being champions of the Swiss Super League, the fact their name is spoken in English despite being located in the bilingual German-French capital of Switzerland makes them hard to miss. 

While it might elicit a few chuckles whenever the fixtures are read out, Young Boys Bern – who play out of the Wankdorf Stadium in the suburbs of Bern and have a female division called Young Boys Women – have always been in on the joke. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Why are they called Young Boys?

Young Boys are sometimes known as Young Boys Bern, but their full name is BSC Young Boys, which stands for Berner Sports Club Young Boys. 

They were founded in the spring of 1898 and have won 15 Swiss leagues and six Swiss cups. 

Given that football was a relatively new sport at the time, the clubs founders – high school students Max Schwab, Hermann Bauer, Franz Kehrli and Oskar Schwab – named the club in a nod to Basel Old Boys, also deciding to adopt their colours of yellow and black. 

Basel Old Boys still exist. While they currently play in the fifth tier of Swiss football, the two clubs have met each other in cup competition. 

While the Swiss had taken to football strongly, in the early days it had largely been spread throughout the country by foreigners from Britain, as was the case through much of Europe. 

Whether Schwab, Bauer, Kehrli and Schwab knew it or not, the term ‘old boys’ refers to a former student of a college, school or sports club. 

Initially a student team, players from Young Boys were used more often in the city’s dominant FC Bern side, which caused friction on both sides. 

When FC Bern players complained, Young Boys were given the choice of merging or going their own way. FC Bern still exist, but currently play in the sixth tier of Swiss football. 

Young Boys have inspired similar names elsewhere in Swiss football, with SC Young Fellows Juventus based in Zurich and playing in the third tier of Swiss football. 

What about Young Boys playing out of Wankdorf Stadium? 

As for Wankdorf, this is less of an in-joke and more of a fact of geography and language. 

The current Wankdorf Stadium is the second largest in Switzerland. The stadium’s predecessors have also ranked highly, with one hosting the 1954 World Cup final (and the Miracle of Bern). 

A former logo of Young Boys Bern. Image: Wikicommons/CC

Wankdorf Stadium is based in the Wankdorf area in Bern. 

While Dorf means village in German, Wank does not have the same meaning in German as it does in English. 

While Young Boys have and English name and periodically English words on their crest, Wankdorf just doesn’t have the same meaning as it might elsewhere, although it does make for some good songs. 

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For members


Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

Under Swiss law, all men must serve at least one year in compulsory national service. But is this discriminatory?

Swiss military members walk across a road carrying guns
A new lawsuit seeks to challenge Switzerland's male-only military service requirement. Is this discriminatory? FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

All men aged between the ages of 18 and 30 are required to complete compulsory military service in Switzerland. 

A lawsuit which worked its way through the Swiss courts has now ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges will decide if Switzerland’s male-only conscription requirement violates anti-discrimination rules. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper wrote on Monday the case has “explosive potential” and has “what it takes to cause a tremor” to a policy which was first laid out in Switzerland’s 1848 and 1874 Federal Constitutions. 

What is Switzerland’s compulsory military service? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases). 

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over. Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

What about national rather than military service? 

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. 

READ MORE: The Swiss army’s growing problem with civilian service

Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40. 

This must be for 340 days in total, longer than the military service requirement. 

What about foreigners and dual nationals? 

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

How do Swiss people feel about military and national service? 

Generally, the obligation is viewed relatively positively, both by the general public and by those who take part in compulsory service. 

While several other European countries have gotten rid of mandatory service, a 2013 referendum which attempted to abolish conscription was rejected by 73 percent of Swiss voters. 

What is the court case and what does it say? 

Martin D. Küng, the lawyer from the Swiss canton of Bern who has driven the case through the courts, has a personal interest in its success. 

He was found unfit for service but is still required to pay an annual bill to the Swiss government, which was 1662CHF for the last year he was required to pay it. 

While the 36-year-old no longer has to pay the amount – the obligation only lasts between the ages of 18 and 30 – Küng is bring the case on principle. 

So far, Küng has had little success in the Swiss courts, with his appeal rejected by the cantonal administrative court and later by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. 

Previous Supreme Court cases, when hearing objections to men-only military service, said that women are less suitable for conscription due to “physiological and biological differences”.

In Küng’s case, the judges avoided this justification, saying instead that the matter was a constitutional issue. 

‘No objective reason why only men have to do military service’

He has now appealed the decision to the European level. 

While men have previously tried and failed when taking their case to the Supreme Court, no Swiss man has ever brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Küng told the NZZ that he considered the rule to be unjust and said the Supreme Court’s decision is based on political considerations. 

“I would have expected the Federal Supreme Court to have the courage to clearly state the obvious in my case and not to decide on political grounds,” Küng said. 

“There is no objective reason why only men have to do military service or pay replacement taxes. On average, women may not be as physically productive as men, but that is not a criterion for excluding them from compulsory military service. 

There are quite a few men who cannot keep up with women in terms of stamina. Gender is simply the wrong demarcation criterion for deciding on compulsory service. If so, then one would have to focus on physical performance.”

Is it likely to pass? 

Küng is optimistic that the Strasbourg court will find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax, which was only imposed on men. 

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said. 

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision. 

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him. 

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”