The fledgling Ottawa Aces, yet to take the field, are leaving Canada for England.
The rugby league franchise was originally slated to debut in 2021 in the third tier of English rugby league — the Betfred League 1.
But citing the global pandemic, Ottawa and the Rugby Football League announced last November that the Aces' debut was being pushed back to 2022.
On Friday, the club announced it was leaving Canada for good.
"It is with heavy hearts we must announce our club will be forced to permanently relocate back to England, and a more stable operating environment," the club said in a statement.
"In the coming weeks, our new permanent location in England will be revealed. Due to this move, all season ticket membership deposits will be refunded."
The Aces' move follows the 2020 demise of the Toronto Wolfpack.
Taking the field in the English third tier in 2017, the Wolfpack won promotion to the elite Super League. But the club stood down in July 2020, saying it could not afford to play out the remainder of the pandemic-affected 2020 Super League season.
Super League clubs eventually rejected the Wolfpack's bid to return in 2021 under new ownership.
The Aces are the brainchild of president/chairman Eric Perez, who founded the Wolfpack.
Perez and a consortium of some 26 people bought the license to England's Hemel Stags in September 2018, with a view to moving the franchise to Canada.
"We launched our club’s move from Hemel Hempstead to Ottawa on March 9, 2020. A few days later, the pandemic began its spread within Canada," the Aces said in their statement.
"In essence, we have lived the entirety of our existence amid the pandemic. Last season, we were revving up to play our inaugural campaign, when we were forced to pull out due to the ongoing proliferation of the pandemic.
"Let it be known, a wide range of solutions have been explored, with a view to keeping this club in Ottawa. As well, numerous factors were considered. These factors included but were not limited to consultation with both the governments of the United Kingdom and Canada, and the projected ease and availability of travel options next year.
"Unfortunately, despite the extreme motivation, significant financial investment and the heart and soul of our staff being poured into the task, it has proven to be a bridge too far."
The Aces were to play out of TD Place Stadium. Ottawa players already signed were allowed to join other clubs for the 2021 season.
"We hope one day professional Rugby League can return to Canada, and specifically TD Place Stadium," the club said Friday.
Perez did the heavy lifting in bringing rugby league to Canada. He was the face of the Wolfpack in its 2017 inaugural season.
But he was rarely seen after that as majority owner David Argyle stepped forward. The Toronto team faltered when Argyle was unable to keep funding the franchise.
In Ottawa, Perez had a partnership with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the CFL's Ottawa Redblacks, and OHL's Ottawa 67s and runs the arena and stadium at TD Place.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press