One of the most dynamic organisers of major sports events in the Cayman Islands sadly said goodbye this week to return to his Australia homeland.
Dan Kneipp is a squash coach who in his six years here elevated the sport to be the Caribbean’s focal point for the world’s top players by organising three Cayman Opens and signing off three weeks ago with the women’s World Open, won for the seventh time by Malaysia’s Nicol David.
Ramy Ashour, one of the greatest men’s players in squash history, was here for the 2011 Cayman Open, loved it and even wanted to buy a property here.
Junior programmes in squash and tennis have been boosted through Kneipp’s involvement too. More kids play these two sports than ever before and they have first class equipment as well.
Kneipp will relocate with wife Stephanie and two small children to Melbourne but hopes to maintain ties with Cayman by working on tennis tournaments remotely.
Reluctant to go, they feel that having family support in Aus will make life easier. The fact that the Cayman government under present circumstances cannot fully back sports events because of financial restraints, is another deciding factor.
“It’s bitter sweet to be leaving,” Kneipp said at his leaving party at Tiki Beach on Friday. “Cayman has been phenomenal, an incredible place. I’m proud of some of the events we’ve done. I’ve made a lot of friends and met some incredible people both professionally and socially.
“My kids were born here so Cayman is always going to have a strong place in our hearts.
“Last year we did Legends Tennis with Martina Hingis, Richard Branson, Greg Norman and Stefan Edberg.
“We also did the World Squash Open. So many companies helped us to do that. It’s been a very difficult road, especially with the government that obviously has a lot of financial restrictions and budgetary restraints.
“It means that in some areas, sports tourism is not the most important thing. I don’t necessarily think that’s the smartest decision because it helps generate more money, but if you don’t have the cash flow and resources that’s going to be one of the first things that goes.
“It is just too difficult to organise events of the size and calibre that we do, with people like Branson and George Bush, Edberg, Hingis… These aren’t cheap events but the level of exposure is phenomenal. But if you can’t get government sponsorship that’s difficult.
“It’s never been great but it needs to be more and at a higher level. When things turnaround that will change.
“There are companies like Maples and people like Michael Ryan that continue to put a lot of money into these events. Without these people, who does? BDO just sponsored the World Open and if they hadn’t stepped up to do this it just wouldn’t have happened.
“It’s easy to take for granted that we have events like this. If you look at what the volleyball association does to bring NORCECA here, it’s incredible.”
Kneipp still hopes to be involved in major sports events here from the other side of the world, thanks to technology. He has no job to go to and they will be living with his in-laws initially.
Since 2007 Kneipp plotted hosting the World Open here and is grateful to all the sponsors including the Caymanian Compass who have backed him all the way. He is thankful to the sponsors who believed in his vision in the early days and hailed Cayman Free Press executives Teritia Peart and Anne Gurrero for their support.
“Melbourne is one of the best cities in the world to try to organise a big sporting event,” he said before getting nostalgic again. “It’s still been an incredible journey here. It sounds cliched but it wouldn’t have happened without so many great people getting involved.
“A lot of squash players have contacted me and said they are extremely disappointed that squash isn’t going on and ask if there is some way it can still happen.
“Cayman makes sports tourism very easy. Players say Cayman is their favourite, because the beaches are so pretty and the people so friendly.
“One of the reasons why the players love it here so much as well is because they don’t get hassled. Stefan Edberg will be shopping in Guy Harvey and the general public will just say hi to him without mobbing him.
“This is part of Cayman culture and it helps the stars relax a lot. You keep hearing that from the players.”