AFC Cup matches postponed after Bengaluru breach Covid protocols (Ld)

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Sunday announced to postpone the AFC Cup Group D matches in Maldives after three Bengaluru FC players allegedly breached Covid-19 protocols.

Bengaluru FC were scheduled to face local club Eagles FC in a playoff match after which the Group D matches were scheduled to start on May 14 with fellow Indian Super League (ISL) side ATK Mohun Bagan facing the winners of the playoff.

“Participating clubs which have travelled to Maldives will be required to arrange for their return home while adhering to the Covid-19 health and travel protocols put in place by the country. At the same time, the AFC is in contact with all other participating clubs and officials who have not entered Maldives to cancel their travel arrangements,” said the AFC.

“The AFC Cup (South) group stage matches are now postponed until further notice with more information to be announced in due course,” it added.

Earlier, Maldives’ Sports Minister Ahmed Mahloof condemned Bengaluru FC for breaching the guidelines issued by the country’s Health Protection Agency as well the AFC.

Mahloof did not describe the nature of the breach but termed Bengaluru’s behaviour as “unacceptable”, saying the club has to leave Maldives “immediately”.

“Unacceptable behaviour from @bengalurufc breaching the strict guidelines from HPA & @theafcdotcom. The club should leave (Maldives) immediately as we can’t entertain this act. We honoured the commitment we gave a few months back even with the surge in cases & pressure from the public,” Mahloof tweeted.

His tweets came after local media reported that a few Bengaluru FC players were spotted in the streets and also posted photos of the players. Mahloof said in a tweet later that the government has informed the Football Association of Maldives (FAM) that the match cannot go ahead and will later ask the Asian Football Confederation to postpone the group stage matches scheduled to be held in the country after the game.

“We have informed FAM that we cannot hold the match, and asked them to make arrangements for @bengalurufc’s departure. We will be in further correspondence with AFC through @MaldivesFA to postpone the group stage,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bengaluru FC owner Parth Jindal apologised on Sunday, stating that three of the club’s “foreign players/staff” were responsible for the breach.

“On behalf of @bengalurufc I am extremely sorry for the inexcusable behavior of three of our foreign players/staff while in Male – the strictest action will be taken against these players/staff. We have let @AFCCup down and can only say that this will never happen again,” Jindal said in a tweet.