Sport

Ottawa gets green light for English rugby league franchise

Ottawa gets green light for English rugby league franchise

The governing body of English rugby league has accepted a bid to put a franchise in Ottawa.

Toronto's Eric Perez, who helped bring the sport to North America via the Toronto Wolfpack, is part of a Canadian consortium that acquired England's Hemel Stags team in the hope of moving it to Ottawa.

On Monday, he got the green light.

"The application for Hemel Stags to be relocated to Ottawa has been accepted in principle — although both the RFL and the consortia have agreed that some further work is required before it can be confirmed that the Stags will be ready to start the 2020 season in Ottawa," the Rugby Football League said in a statement.

The Ottawa team would start in the third-tier Betfred League One, as the Wolfpack did when they started in 2017.

A separate bid to put a new club in New York was deemed in need of more work.

"With regard to the New York bid, the RFL and the consortium have agreed that entry into League One in time for 2020 is not achievable without placing the club under undue pressure, because it is a startup operation without the benefit of existing operations already being in place, and due to some change in the ownership structure during the process," the RFL said.

"The RFL has therefore encouraged the club to work towards entry into League One in 2021."

Wolfpack pave the way

The Wolfpack won promotion to the second-tier Championship in 2017, narrowly missing out on graduating to the elite Super League last year. Toronto currently tops the Championship table at 13-1-0.

Hemel withdrew from League One for the 2019 season with an eye to returning in 2020.

Perez's plan is to install the team in Ottawa, playing out of TD Place Stadium.

Perez's ownership group is working with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), which owns the CFL Redblacks, OHL 67's and USL Championship's Ottawa Fury FC (USL). OSEG also manages TD Place stadium and arena.

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

Fish-and-chips beginning

Perez originally hatched the idea of bringing the sport of rugby league to Canada on a fish-and-chips wrapper. As founder and CEO, he was the face of the Wolfpack when its blueprint was announced in 2016.

But he has since stepped away from the team to work on further expanding the game while remaining on the team's board of directors.

David Argyle, a Toronto-based Australian entrepreneur who heads up the Wolfpack ownership group, has taken a more prominent public role.

In addition to Toronto, the RFL currently has two French clubs in the Catalan Dragons (in the Super League) and Toulouse Olympique (in the Championship).

Rugby league is the 13-man version of the game, distinct