The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Saturday directed Bengaluru FC to “defer” their visit to the Maldives for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) match in Male City, scheduled for Tuesday, owing to the state of emergency in the island country. The government told the club to “strictly adhere” to the MEA’s travel advisory issued on February 5, in which Indian nationals have been advised to “defer all non-essential travels to the island nation until further notice”.
The MEA’s intervention comes a day after the Maldives National Defence Force promised full support to the Indian side for its playoff match against TC Sports Club at Male’s National Stadium. Bengaluru FC were scheduled to depart on Sunday afternoon, however, their plans have now been thrown off track.
The government has also got in touch with All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary Kushal Das on the issue.
In a letter to Srinivas Murthy, Head of Operations, Bengaluru FC, MEA under-secretary (Maldives, Indian Ocean Region) Sushil Prasad wrote: “This is in reference to the newspaper article… in The Indian Express Delhi edition of today about the visit of Bengaluru FC to Male to play a match of Asian Football Confederation Cup against TC Sports Club of Male at National Stadium in Male on February 13, 2018… Since the state of emergency imposed in the Republic of Maldives since February 5, 2018, India has issued a travel advisory… advising Indian nationals to defer their trip to the Maldives until further notice. Bengaluru FC is advised to adhere to it strictly and defer their proposed visit to the Maldives.”
It is believed that Bengaluru FC and AIFF will now request AFC to conduct the match at a later date. The continental body was apprised of the situation on Saturday evening. However, they have insisted that Bengaluru FC make the trip, pointing to the written assurance given by the Maldives National Defence Force.
At the time of going to press, no final decision was taken on whether the Bengaluru FC team would board the flight to Male on Sunday afternoon. A club official said they had “left their fate in the hands of the AIFF”. A senior federation official, meanwhile, said the club “cannot go” if the government does not give the go-ahead. The AFC did not respond to an email requesting comment.
In case AFC does not reschedule the match, TC Sports Club of Maldives will be given an automatic 3-0 win on match day. That will leave Bengaluru with an uphill task in the return leg on February 20.