Ottawa Aces delay start of play in English rugby league's third tier until 2022

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The fledgling Ottawa Aces, who were set to kick off life in the third tier of English rugby league next year, have decided to postpone play until 2022.

The Aces cited the global pandemic as the reason for the delay.

"This decision was not taken lightly and is due to the ongoing proliferation of COVID-19 cases across the U.K., and increasing numbers across Ontario, that cast doubt on the ability to travel freely between Canada and the U.K. in 2021," the Aces said in a statement.

The news comes the same week that Super League, the top tier of English rugby league, rejected the Toronto Wolfpack's bid for reinstatement in 2021. The financially troubled Toronto team stood down July 20, saying it could not afford to play out the remainder of the season.

The Wolfpack franchise, unable to play home games in Toronto due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, now stands dead in the water.

The Rugby Football League supported the Aces' decision to defer entry to the third-tier Betfred League 1 until the 2022 season.

"The RFL looks forward to maintaining a positive relationship with the Aces in their ongoing preparations," it said in a statement. "The RFL will now consider the implications of the deferral on the competition structure for 2021 and will work with the Aces towards entry to League 1 in 2022."

Ottawa has signed close to 20 players already and has a coaching staff in place.

"The Aces organization will focus on making sure all players and staff are given the support they need during this difficult time." Ottawa said in a statement. "All current season-ticket deposits will be honoured for the 2022 season. 

The Aces are the brainchild of Canadian Eric Perez, the founder and first CEO of the Wolfpack.

Perez heads a Canadian consortium that acquired the Hemel Stags franchise, which withdrew from League 1 for the 2019 season. He got the green light to relocate the franchise in Ottawa where it is slated to play out of TD Place Stadium.

The Stags debuted in 1981 in Hemel Hempstead, located 35 kilometres northwest of London.

Perez’s ownership group is working with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), which owns the CFL Redblacks and OHL 67’s.

The Wolfpack started life in League 1 in 2017, winning promotion first to the second-tier Championship and then Super League.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov 5, 2020

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press