Squash may be viewed as a minority sport but in the Cayman Islands it is extremely popular – and potentially big business, writes Journal journalist Ron Shillingford
From recent squash events held here, if organised correctly, future tournaments could generate millions for the struggling Cayman economy.
The facts speak for themselves. The Cayman Open in May brought just under 100 sports tourists and the Caribbean Championships in August brought close to 230. That included players, officials, media, family and friends.
According to the Department of Tourism and Cayman Islands Tourism Association, the average spend of a visitor to these shores is CI$2,100.
Cayman squash coach Dan Kneipp feels that those sums are relatively insignificant compared to what could happen by next year when the Cayman Open is held both at the squash club in South Sound and in a glass arena seating 300 in Camana Bay.
The Cayman Open attracted many of the world’s best women players, including Nicol David and Natalie Grainger, the world No.1 and No.2 respectively.
“We’ve got a lot more scope for the number of people that can be there,” he says.
“We’re limited when we have an event at the squash club because it can only seat under 100 people there, so we can’t market to the US because all of our members and sponsors want to be there.
“It’s totally detrimental to our event if we get 120 people from the States who’ll take all our seats but our members and sponsors can’t get a seat.”
Camana Bay will accommodate everyone plus it’s more central and has more facilities than South Sound. It will be a spectacular venue and sure to expose the sport to a far reaching audience.
Kneipp, an Aussie, has been to most of the prime squash events in the world and he feels Camana Bay will be on par with any he’s seen.
He’s pleased that it will not only showcase Cayman perfectly but also inject over $100,000 into the junior programme. “That will be the tangible value of running this event,” he says.
“As well as the glass court event we’ll be running a pro-am one as well which will bring over 200 people. We’ve also got two other events running throughout the year which we’re piggy backing onto the main event – a college event and a junior one.”
He reckons the total visitors for all these will be 450 people. Potential revenue from media exposure is not insignificant either.
Sky TV and the Tennis Channel are covering it which can be valued at $1 million from the 15 million squash players around the world. Kick in the website and other media coverage including Vanity Fair magazine, and the total exposure is far from shabby. Kneipp estimates it’s worth at least $2m.
On top of all that Cayman has just been asked to host the Caribbean junior championships next year which will attract another 200-plus.
“The overwhelming feedback from the Cayman Open and the Caribbean Championships is that these were the best held events in the Caribbean.
Kneipp states: “Some of the veteran Jamaicans who have been to over 30 Caribbean championships as juniors and seniors said they had heard about the Cayman Open and how well it was run and were impressed when they came to see for themselves.
“We are now on the map as easily the most organised, professional and thorough organisation for squash.”
Cayman’s rapidly increasing squash reputation can be put down to its high level of sponsorship and world class facilities. It has seven air-conditioned courts in a bright, clean environment. The nearest to that in the region is Trinidad’s with four courts in a far more modest building.
Cayman also has some extremely experienced players – such as the association’s president Jeff Broderick – who put their heart and soul into promoting squash here.
The main sponsor for the Caribbean Championships was Cayman Contractor Store, owned by Mark Hennings, a Trinidadian who plays for Cayman vets and whose daughter Samantha was in the women’s team.
There is a genuine community spirit at squash events. Other sponsors included Cayman National, the Department of Sports, Welly’s Cool Spot, KPMG, Rawlinson & Hunter, Genesis Trust and Deloitte.
Many keen players come from these sponsors so it was relatively easy for Kneipp to get them to commit on short notice. (The championships were scheduled for Trinidad who pulled out in June because of swine flu problems.)
Home advantage helped but also the strength and spirit of the Cayman side.
The veteran’s team took the gold medal, the women’s team nabbed silver and the men’s team earned bronze with Cayman coming second in the overall team rankings behind Trindad & Tobago.
Kneipp is a former player who fell into coaching with considerable success. After getting his degree in Queensland he moved to Europe. Based at a huge club in Amsterdam, he learnt how to put on squash events and also coached his brother Joe to many international titles and a world top ten place.
When Joe won a bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, there was no fanfare, scant acknowledgement. A total anti-climax.
That inspired Dan to play national anthems and powerful introduction music at his events to create an atmosphere. It worked. At the Caribbean Championships players were dancing and totally hyped before the first shot was even hit.
Kneipp feels that Cayman’s sporting potential is still far from realised. “People are dying to come here. It was a bonus for the people on the Open tour to say that they’ve got a Caribbean stop. It adds an element of glamour.
“And once they come here and realise how safe and clean it is, they are thrilled. What I think should be happening for a lot more sports here is that there should be structures set up. We should be aiming for the sport’s superstars.
“By squash standards we’ve done that but we should be looking at getting Usain Bolt and the top swimmers and cricketers every time.
“Also, every time we have a big event we should put an enormous amount into the junior programme and the club and social players are getting benefits.
“Now if we tick those boxes and make sure we’re getting the international media involved as well then it makes the event so much easier to organise and keeps the sponsors happy so that it’s likely to run again the next year.”