THE AFC CUP GROUP STAGE matches scheduled to be held in Maldives this month have been postponed following COVID-19 related complications hitting both Indian clubs participating in the tournament.
Bengaluru FC, who were to play local club Eagles FC in the playoff in a bid to qualify for the group stage, and Mohun Bagan who have already qualified for the group stage thanks to their I-League triumph in 2019-20, have both run into issues regarding the virus. Some of these events have led to the Maldives' Minister of Youth & Sports deciding that they would not to host the matches as per schedule.
For Mohun Bagan, the trouble has started at home. The team was yet to travel to Maldives, with their departure scheduled for Monday, 10th May. The Mariners' Indian contingent had been practicing at home, while their foreign players were to join the team directly in Male. But just before their departure, multiple infections of COVID-19 have been reported in the camp. Although the management has not officially disclosed any names, the Mariners who are said to be down with the virus are Prabir Das and Sheikh Sahil.
Meanwhile, Bengaluru FC had already reached Maldives since they were supposed to play in the play in the qualifying game on Tuesday, 11th May. But last night Ahmed Mahloof, Minister of Youth, Sports & Community Empowerment, alleged on Twitter that the BFC contingent had violated the COVID-19 safety protocols and suggested that they should leave the country. The Minister went as far as saying the Football Association of Maldives had been informed that Tuesday's playoff match cannot be held, and that he was in talks with AFC to get the group stage postponed.
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
Afterwards, BFC Director Parth Jindal issued an apology on Twitter for the incident that sparked the controversy.
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
Not long after, it was reported that the Blues' playoff match as well as the subsequent group stage have all been postponed for now. The AFC will talk to the member associations later on about deciding the schedule and venue for these continental tournament matches.
Although a postponement might disappoint many, given the rising number of COVID-19 infections in the subcontinent as well as the recent security crisis in Maldives which involved a terrorist attack on their ex-president Mohamed Nasheed (Due to which he is still in hospitalized and in 'critical conditions' according to reports), it's probably not be the worst idea to keep the football on hold for now and potentially move it to a different location.