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How WWF-Style Pro Wrestling Looks In The Heart Of Europe

Rock music, tight spandex bodysuits and staged maneuvers aren't just for audiences in working-class America. Wrestling is thriving in Switzerland and elsewhere across Europe, where it's seen as a different kind of performance art that even

The British Stallion (up), a key figure of Swiss wrestling
The British Stallion (up), a key figure of Swiss wrestling
Julien Burri

LAUSANNE â€" On a war-like soundtrack, the kind you can hear in superhero movies, an imposing figure wearing a royal-blue cape walks towards the ring. The cape falls to the ground, uncovering the muscular British Stallion, 6-foot-one, 231 pounds, in a blue, black, zebra-striped bodysuit. The soundtrack changes to hard rock. Tonight, the champion will face Japanese opponent Yoshimiro Yamada, wearing white spandex trunks and comparatively diminutive at 5-foot-7 and 198 pounds.

It's not a fight like any other. To win, one of the wrestlers will have to lock his opponent in a coffin. All this before an astounded family audience in this Lausanne community center.

The warriors size each other up, and then the fight starts. The British Stallion taunts Yoshimiro Yamada, loudly thumping his chest, which soon turns bright red. In the audience, a spectator named Nathalie is filled with enthusiasm. "I love it," she says. With the first contact between the fighters, the Stallion sends his opponent to the ground. The bodies fall back heavily on the flooring.

Audience members grit their teeth, certain the fighters won't rise up from this, surely their spinal cords have just been smashed. But they do get back up â€" these spandex-wearing warriors are relentless. The two fight presenters comment on the feats of the "two new babies" and motivate the audience. The British Stallion now picks up his enemy as if he were a "wisp of straw" (according to the presenters) and throws him to the floor. He gets booed. The two men continue out of the ring, insulting each other in English. Everything is still left to play for.

The British Stallion climbs onto one of the ring's posts and launches himself to crush his smaller opponent poor with all his weight. This technique is called the "moonsault." But Yoshimiro Yamada, who everyone thought was finished, gets back up at the very last second, throwing his opponent over his shoulder and onto the ground. Then, with a dropkick, he quickly sends him into the coffin set up at the foot of the ring.

The audience members hold their breath. Yoshimiro Yamada has just won Switzerland's pro wrestling champion title.

Staged show

Of course, it was all staged in advance. The winner and the loser agreed what the outcome would be. Wrestling is a show that leaves little to chance. Yoshimiro Yamada, a supposedly Japanese wrestler, was in fact trained in the Swiss town of Fribourg.

Take Greco-Roman wrestling, blend it with boxing, a fairground spirit, martial arts, a few stunts, and you'll have an idea of what wrestling is. Two qualities are essential for aspiring wrestlers: being able to tell a story and knowing how to fall.

"For 10 years, I played good guys, but I prefer bad guys," says Adrian McLeod, aka Adrian Johnatans, or the British Stallion. In wrestling, goog guys are nicknamed "baby faces." The bad guys are the "hells." You can't have a good show without a proper bad guy.

McLeod was the one who orchestrated the show. The 27-year-old Briton, who has been living in Switzerland since 1994, regularly fights in Germany, France, Belgium, Sweden and Ireland. He dreams of the United States. In 2004, the young man launched Swiss Power Wrestling, an association of four Swiss schools. In Lausanne, there are about 15 active wrestlers. To make a living, McLeod is also a "fitness modeling" trainer. "The bulk of my customer base is women who want to lose weight," he says.

We met him at Taco's Bar in Lausanne's Flon district, where people come to play pool and watch men pretend to beat each other up on the last Wednesday of every month. Sometimes women compete â€" such as Chelsea L. Johnson or "Queen Maya" â€" but very few climb onto the ring.

Group therapy

McLeod sees in these staged confrontations "the continuity of ritual fights that have always existed." Group therapy, half-dance, half-fight. He'd like to end the clichés that exist around wrestling, and "show people it's not for morons." In fact, describing what a good match looks like, he makes a reference to ancient Greek drama. "We create a catharsis to evacuate the aggressiveness and the fears of the viewers," he says. "For one hour, we tell people stories to make them forget their everyday lives."

Nothing irritates him more than suspicious comments like, "The matches are staged, wrestling is nothing but bluff." He prefers to think of it as a performance sport that, above all, aims to entertain. But the physical prowess is real. He draws inspiration from the staged fights of American wrestling, but he uses techniques from Japanese wrestling: realism and abrupt blows.

Unlike the European school of thought, which is popular in the United Kingdom and in France, he prefers staging transgressions. In the ring, the British Stallion indulges in all kinds of low blows. But outside, he's very formal with journalists and can talk about Aristotle"s Poetics. He may be English, but he looks like the head of a Latino gang, with the bearing and the solemnity of a samurai.

A big brother

McLeod rehearses with his students on Sunday afternoon in a Lausanne fitness center. The day we visit, there are eight of them on the mat. The British Stallion is doing demonstrations. Each wrestling move â€" there are dozens â€" has a name. Etienne, aka Rob Iron, is a fortysomething caught in a submissive hold. He hits the ground and begs for mercy.

"Come on, son!" shouts 24-year-old Laurent, aka "Kurt Simmons," who sports a Viking look with long, blond hair. "We shave our body hair, wear skin-tight, fluorescent pants. You have to be comfortable with your manliness to dare to do it," McLeod says. Here comes the "battering ram," in which the attacker charges headfirst into his opponent's chest.

A 17-year-old is here to see the course with his older brother, mother and grandfather. He's shy and lets his mother speak for him. "When could he start?" she asks. The course is open to "anyone in good health and over 16" and costs 82 euros per month. A lighter course, from 12 years old, costs 45 euros per month. For the young fighters, McLeod is like a big brother. "There's a lack of paternal models," he says. "Mothers often call us to say, "Since he started training with you, my son behaves better.""

Performing in about 20 shows per year, Laurent considers himself as a "wrestler in the making." He became bored with his mechanic apprenticeship. With wrestling, he's happy. He jokes about the purplish-blue bruises on his back. But he'll probably never be able to make a living with what he earns from wrestling.

And some audiences are disappointed when they see Swiss wrestlers arrive because they're not as big as the American wrestlers they see on TV. "I tell them American TV only shows a certain version of wrestling," Laurent says. Beefy bodies don't necessarily make good wrestlers. In fact, it's quite the opposite. And what's important is believing in yourself. "When I step onto the ring, I'm no longer Laurent. I'm Kurt Simmons!"

Roland Barthes fascinated

We saw Kurt Simmons in action in Lausanne going against South African wrestler Jack Vice, a large, bearded brute, standing at 6-foot-four and 253 pounds, with the word "Vice" written across his shorts. He insulted and smacked the Swiss before locking him in more complicated holds. Kurt screamed out in pain. It's not always easy being the "babyface." Vice then pulled Kurt's hair, ripping some out, to which a viewer yelled "pig!" The African fighter lifted Kurt above his head and dropped him, mercilessly. Kurt crashed onto the floor of the ring, his body bouncing before lying still.

But Kurt got back on top and triumphed. There's justice in the world of wrestling.

That's why French philosopher Roland Barthes was so fascinated by this art. He dedicated an essay in his Mythologies collection, published in 1957, to an examination of professional wrestling, believing it to be the successor to antic theater. The indefinitely replayed spectacle of humiliation and revenge, the reassuring victory of good over evil. The expression of divine justice, no matter how waxed, oiled and dressed in fluorescent spandex.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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