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Switzerland – square flag or rectangular flag?

Last modified: 2024-04-27 by martin karner
Keywords: switzerland | square flag | rectangular flag |
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[Swiss flag]   [Swiss flag at sea] images by António Martins

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Flag at sea and international sporting events

The National Flag of Switzerland is square. The Swiss Naval Ensign was adopted with the proportions 2:3.
Nick Artimovich, 12 February 1996

The Swiss flag has been used in an unofficially rectangular shape during opening ceremonies and throughout the games in several Olympic Games, this is documented from probably most – if not all – of the Olympic Games. The same applies to other international sports or non governmental events. I say "unofficially", because the official proportion is 1:1, as every vexillologist knows, except for the national flag for use on sea, which is rectangular with proportions 2:3. But then, no national flags at sea are used during ceremonies at Olympic Games.
As a matter of fact, nobody within the Swiss government cares about the size of our national flag during Olympic Games, which are a joyful and peaceful event of humankind. It just complies with the local rules and does what everybody does, thus keeping problems away. There are no official directions as to how the Swiss flag should look during events outside the country. Most Swiss flags used at such events are not manufactured in Switzerland anyway.
If the issue is not sports and world-wide joy, but politics, then the Swiss flag is kept square, like outside the U.N. headquarters in New York and Geneva. Nepal and Switzerland are the only countries within the United Nations not showing the standard rectangular 2:3 flag but the original proportions.
As everybody knows, the standardization of flag proportions during big events follows economic and practical reasons: ordering 10000 flags of the same size is cheaper than ordering 200 sets of 50 flags, with many sets of different sizes. The even more important reason is to avoid the negative public impact of one country being bigger, i.e. different, than the other. At Olympic Games "everybody is equal", and "vexillology, what the hell is that?".
There's no great use to discuss about sizes, but we can learn from such a problem to tell good flag design = high identification value, from bad flag design. Good flags remain good, whatever its shape may be.
Emil Dreyer, 14 February 2010

The Swiss entrance in the 1936 Berlin games is one of the most memorable of all time, and the flag-bearer is twirling a square flag in true alpine fashion. It is clearly visible in this clip.
M. Schmöger, 15 February 2010
[Ed. note: The originally posted Youtube link in the above contribution didn't work anymore, I could replace it with an other one. In this video the whole passage of the Swiss entrance is visible. The flag tosser M. Schmöger describes (from 9:02 in the video) was not the official flag bearer (who is shown at 8:56 with a rectangular flag). Either way it is an outstanding flag performance, maybe unique of all Olympic opening ceremonies.]

Switzerland hosted the 2nd Winter Olympics (St. Moritz 1928), and the official poster [source:] (a painting, not a photograph) surprisingly shows a rectangular Swiss flag alongside the Olympic flag. Surprising, because I would not expect this from the host country.
In the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Switzerland (and a few other nations) marched under the Olympic flag in partial support of the US-led boycott protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In recent Olympics, the 1992 Barcelona games are the only instance I find of the Swiss marching behind a square flag in the opening ceremonies. All summer games since then have featured a rectangular flag. Ditto for all winter games 1988, 1998 and following. Clips in youtube are the evidence.
So, in what other games did Switzerland carry a square flag? Barring any specific evidence, and despite the record of recent games, I would still expect the more correct square flag to be the predominant usage in earlier games. Note that the flag leading a national delegation is one of a kind, and not subject to the strictures of mass production. The flags raised at medal ceremonies at various venues are another matter, and more logically subject to pressures for uniformity in proportions.
T.F. Mills, 15 February 2010