AFC Cup: Bengaluru FC’s AFC Cup playoff match against Eagles FC, scheduled to be played on May 11 in Male, was postponed after Maldives’ Sports Minister Ahmed Mahloof asked the Indian Super League side to leave the country. The action was taken after three Bengaluru FC players including Australian midfielder Erik Paartalu was seen breaching COVID-19 restrictions. Mahloof said that the country will not be able to host the AFC Cup matches and instructed the Football Association of Maldives (FAM) to arrange BFC’s departure. Later, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) postponed the matches, also affecting ATK Mohun Bagan who were set to play Group D games.
Ahmed Mahloof made the allegations after local media reported that Bengaluru FC players breached COVID-19 guidelines set by the Maldives government. The country has restricted Indian travellers due to the rising cases of COVID-19 in the country but due to the match, players got special permission. As per the guidelines, players need to be confined to a room apart from going out for a match or practice.
The local media alleged that several players were seen taking photographs on the street. One of the players who was spotted on the street was Erik Paartalu. The players reached the Maldives on Friday.
AFC Cup: Bengaluru FC’s Playoff match against Eagles FC postponed
Following the report, Ahmed Mahloof, Maldives’ Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment, posted on Twitter that this was unacceptable behaviour from Bengaluru FC.
“Unacceptable behaviour from Bengaluru FC breaching the strict guidelines from HPA & AFC. 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.
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. https://t.co/wPO7Qkw9Ou
— Ahmed Mahloof (@AhmedMahloof) May 8, 2021
“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 added.
When InsideSport reached out to Bengaluru FC officials, the club said that it did not receive any intimation from either the Maldives government, the FAM or the AFC regarding the matter. “We won’t be able to make any comments regarding this until we hear anything officially from the authorities,” one of the officials told InsideSport.
Kushal Das, AIFF’s General Secretary said that although the Maldives Football Association or the AFC haven’t informed them about the breaches, the AIFF is aware of the situation. He also expressed his disappointment in this regard.
“Football Maldives haven’t informed us officially about the Bengaluru FC incident. But I have seen the tweets and the pictures. They did not follow the protocols and restrictions in the Maldives. It’s very sad and unfortunate. The AIFF has had a very good relation with Maldives FA. When they are hosting the matches and informed the club about the protocols and guidelines, breaching them is definitely looks bad on the AIFF,” Das told InsideSport.
But Kushal Das said that Bengaluru FC have tendered a strong apology to the Maldives FA. “Anyway, Bengaluru FC have tendered a strong apology to the country and the FA. So, let’s see what is the final decision they make. We haven’t had a talk in this regard with BFC yet,” he added.
While the club initially refused to comment on the matter, owner Parth Jindal later apologised on Twitter for letting them down.
“On behalf of Bengaluru FC, 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 AFC Cup down and can only say that this will never happen again,” Parth Jindal tweeted.
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
— Parth Jindal (@ParthJindal11) May 9, 2021
AFC Cup: ATK Mohun Bagan’s AFC Cup Group D matches postponed
The action also affected ATK Mohun Bagan’s Group D games. The three-time Indian Super League champions were set for their maiden AFC Cup campaign as they qualified for the continental tournament. If Bengaluru FC had won the South Asia Zone playoff final match against Eagles FC, they were also set to feature in Group D alongside ATK Mohun Bagan, Bangladeshi side Basundhara Kings and the Maldives club Maziya S&RC. The matches were slated to be held from May 14 in the Maldives.
Furthermore, on Sunday, two ATK Mohun Bagan players — Prabir Das and SK Sahil — tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be able to travel without being in quarantine for two weeks. ATK Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya is also likely to miss the match as his mother is hospitalised with COVID-19.
“The AFC can confirm that the AFC Cup (South) Group D matches, which were scheduled to take place from May 14 to 21, 2021, will not be held in Male, Maldives. Participating clubs who 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,” the AFC said in a statement.
“At the same time, the AFC is in contact with all other Participating clubs and officials who have not entered the Maldives to cancel their travel arrangements. The AFC Cup (South) Group Stage matches are now postponed until further notice with more information to be announced in due course,” it added.