Bengaluru FC told to exit Maldives after COVID-19 protocol breach

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May 9 (Reuters) - Indian Super League (ISL) soccer team Bengaluru FC were asked to leave the Maldives on Sunday by the country's sports minister, after some players breached COVID-19 protocols ahead of their AFC Cup playoff tie with Eagles FC.

Maldives Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment Ahmed Mahloof took to Twitter to call for the Indian team to leave the country for breaching guidelines set by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) before their match on May 11.

"Unacceptable behaviour from @bengalurufc breaching the strict guidelines from HPA," Mahloof said. "The club should leave... immediately as we can't entertain this act.

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"We have informed FAM (Football Association of Maldives) that we cannot hold the match, and asked them to make arrangements for @bengalurufc's departure. We will be in further correspondence with AFC... to postpone the group stage."

The AFC later confirmed that all AFC Cup south zone group stage matches in the Maldives had been postponed.

Group D matches were originally scheduled to be held in the capital Male from May 14-21. The AFC did not give revised dates for the games.

"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."

Group D includes India's ATK Mohun Bagan, Bashundhara Kings of Bangladesh, Maldives' Maziya Sports & Recreation and the winner of the playoff.

Bengaluru FC CEO Parth Jindal said on Twitter that the club would sanction three members of the travelling party.

"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," Jindal said.

Earlier, Group J matches in Hong Kong were postponed from May to June due to challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 edition of the AFC Cup was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic when quarantine regulations in many nations made international travel almost impossible.

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Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru Editing by Toby Davis

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