Heat mega-deal blazes WC trail in Cairns

Cairns could host World Cup qualifiers in the near future, according to FNQ Heat director Ken Chapman following a landmark agreement with an ambitious tourism development company.

Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort Group announced a sponsorship deal with NPL Queensland club FNQ Heat last week, with the bold goal of propelling the second-year outfit into the A-League.

The Aquis project is worth $4.2 billion and is the largest investment in tourism infrastructure in Australia’s history. As part of the proposal, which requires approval by the Queensland State Government, Aquis would build a new 25,000-seat stadium which FNQ Heat would use for A-League matches.

The ambitious project doesn’t end there, with Chapman stating the venue could also be used for World Cup qualifiers, claiming Cairns is an ideal location given its convenience and proximity to Asia.

“We want to be having international games and World Cup qualifiers,” Chapman said. “Aquis want to see the world game come to Cairns and they’re prepared to back it.

“If we’ve got the stadium and the backing, plus the connections into Asia with our International Airport, with direct flights to Asia everyday, anything is possible.”

The construction of the stadium, as part of the project, remains subject to State Government approval, but assuming that it is granted, is mooted to commence in March next year after the wet season.

The stadium isn’t likely to be ready until after the current A-League broadcast rights deal concludes, when the FFA will consider expansion again.

FNQ Heat, along with Townsville-based Northern Fury, are two clubs who have signaled their intent to push for a place in the A-League when that window opens up.

“The timeframe of the A-League is consistent with us. We’ve got to build the stadium first,” Chapman said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do with the FFA still but it’s really exciting.

“It’s an ideal part of the world for the A-League to expand in to. The future with football in Australia is tied in with Asia and Cairns is ideally placed.”

Chapman revealed he’d only held preliminary discussions with the FFA about the club’s A-League plans and hoped to have a serious meeting to discuss the “hurdles they’d need to jump”.

He also said they would look into the possibility of a National Youth League outfit in the next few years and pointed to their success as a start-up club.

The Heat won the FFA Team of the Year in their first season of existence in 2013, an award which focuses on community engagement and youth development.

“It didn’t happen by accident,” Chapman said. “We’re a start-up club and we’re kicking goals.”

Cairns has a long history of producing quality footballers including Frank Farina, Michael Thwaite, Zenon Caravella and Shane Stefanutto.

There are currently three Joeys who hail from Cairns, in Jamie Dimitroff, Nicholas Panetta and Rhys Raymond.

Heat technical director Chris Collins said the club’s initial success showed the foundations were in place for an eventual A-League licence.

Chapman added: “We’re a start-up club, this is only our second year of existence. We were set up to field a team in the NPL and we’ve got a lot of work to do there and building the game up here.

“When you’ve got support from the someone like the Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort, you really can achieve great things and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”