Bengaluru FC's AFC Cup play-off match against Eagles FC on May 11 in the Maldives is in doubt after the host country's sports minister asked the ISL side to leave, citing breach of COVID-19 protocols, a charge which the club's owner admitted to be correct.
The exact nature of the breach by BFC, which is captained by India skipper Sunil Chhetri, was not specified, but Maldives sports minister Ahmed Mahloof termed it as "unacceptable", a sentiment echoed by club owner Parth Jindal.
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. 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 there despite the ban on tourists from India because of the COVID-19 surge.
"Unacceptable behavior from @bengalurufc breaching the strict guidelines from HPA (Health Protection Agency) & @theafcdotcom. The club should leave... 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 going 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 is hosting the play-off match and all the Group D matches as the AFC wanted single venues in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
AFC later issued a statement to say that Group D matches have been postponed but did not give any reason for the development. ATK Mohun Bagan are to play the winner of BFC and Eagles on May 14 in their opening match.
"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.