AFC Cup: Breach leaves Bengaluru FC red-faced
In an embarrassment for Indian football, the AFC Cup (South) play-off match between the Sunil Chhetri-captained Bengaluru FC and hosts Club Eagles of Maldives, scheduled to played in Male on Tuesday, was postponed after it was found that three members of the visiting squad had breached the island nation’s Covid-19 protocols.
Earlier in the day, the AFC had indefinitely put on hold the Group D matches, which too were supposed to be held in Male. The continental body did not give reasons for the postponement, but rising cases of Covid-19 in the participating nations could be a reason.
The winners of Tuesday’s match would have featured in Group D along with ATK Mohun Bagan, Maziya Sports and Recreation Club (Maldives) and Bashundhara Kings of Dhaka. ATK Mohun Bagan were supposed to fly out of Calcutta on Monday afternoon.
“The Asian Football Confederation (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 for both the Group and Playoff Stages 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 the Maldives to cancel their travel arrangements. The AFC Cup (South) Group and Playoff Stage matches are now postponed until further notice with more information to be announced in due course,” the AFC said in statement.
The Covid-19 chaos began after Maldives sports minister Ahmed Mahloof reacted on Sunday to a story in local media, which showed three allegedly Bengaluru FC players breaching the bio-bubble protocol and roaming outside the team hotel in Male.
“Unacceptable behavior 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.
Unacceptable behavior from @bengalurufc breaching the strict guidelines from HPA & @theafcdotcom.— Ahmed Mahloof (@AhmedMahloof) May 8, 2021
The club should leave 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. https://t.co/RXxma0hyjm
BFC owner Parth Jindal conceded that his team has let AFC down. “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,” he 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
The club later issued a statement too, which was in line with Jindal’s tweet. “The club is making arrangements to get all its players and staff home at the earliest. Bengaluru FC would also 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… This error in judgment (sic) in no way aligns or indicates otherwise stringent measures that the club has maintained over the course of the season. The club will be dealing with this internally.”
Sigh of relief
The postponement of the Group D matches however could not have come at a better time for ATK Mohun Bagan. Two players reportedly tested Covid-19 positive on Saturday during the screening process ahead of the departure. That club though did not issue an official statement.
“It’s a good thing for us that the Group D matches have been postponed. This would give us time to prepare batter,” one official told The Telegraph.
ATK Mohun Bagan had earlier planned to a have a preparatory camp in Calcutta from April 26 but had to cancel it as the surge in Covid-19 cases became alarmingly high. The club had asked four players — Roy Krishna (Fijian), Carl McHugh (Irish), Tiri (Spanish) and David Williams — to report directly to Male.
Coach Antonio Lopez Habas would have come from Madrid. There was no clear indication whether all the foreign players would have been able to join the squad. According to the official, there was a question mark on Williams.
The Australian striker had written to the concerned authorities seeking permission to travel to Male from Down Under. “He was ready to quarantine himself in Male before returning to Australia,” the official said.