Bengaluru FC's upcoming AFC Cup play-off match against Eagles FC was on Sunday postponed indefinitely after three members of the visiting team violated COVID-19 protocols. (More Football News)
The postponement comes after the host country's sports minister Ahmed Mahloof asked the ISL side to leave, citing breach of COVID-19 protocols, a sentiment echoed by club owner Parth Jindal.
"Bengaluru FC's 2021 AFC Cup playoff stage clash against Eagles FC has been postponed until further notice, as confirmed by the Asian Football Confederation on Sunday. The club is making all arrangements to get all its players and staff home at the earliest," BFC said in a statement.
The match was to take place on Tuesday.
The exact nature of the breach by BFC, which is captained by India skipper Sunil Chhetri, was not specified but sports minister Ahmed Mahloof termed it as "unacceptable".
This was after reports emerged that some of the club's players were seen on a street at Male in violation of the quarantine rules.
"Bengaluru FC would like to place on record an unconditional apology for a health and safety breach, involving one member of staff and two players, in the Maldives, on Saturday," it said in the statement.
"The club will be dealing with this matter internally."
Earlier, Jindal apologised for the "inexcusable behaviour of three foreign players/staff" and promised strictest action against them.
Local media reported that BFC players, who had reached Maldives on Friday, were seen on the Male streets, which was not permitted as they were given special permission to be here despite the ban on tourists from India because of a COVID-19 surge there.
"Unacceptable behavior from @bengalurufc breaching the strict guidelines from HPA (Health Protection Agency) & @theafcdotcom. The club should leave Flag of Maldives immediately as we can't entertain this act," Mahloof tweeted from his official handle.
"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."
As per a report by 'Adhadhu News', a local newspaper quoted by goal.com website, Maldives' Health Protection Agency (HPA) had given special permission for the play-off match between Eagles and Bengaluru FC.
One of the conditions was that the players and staff had to be confined to the hotel at all times except when ging for training and the matches, it said.
Channel Nine Maldives also put up a photo of BFC's Australian import Erik Paartalu walking on a street in Male.
Apologising for the behaviour of his players, Jindal said he will ensure such events do not happen in future.
"On behalf of @bengalurufc I am extremely sorry for the inexcusable behaviour of three of our foreign players/staff while in Male - the strictest action will be taken against these players/staff," he tweeted.
"We have let @AFCCup down and can only say that this will never happen again."
Maldives was hosting the play-off match and all the Group D matches as the AFC wanted single venues in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We honoured the commitment we gave a few months back even with the surge in cases & pressure from the public," Mahloof said in another tweet.