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Scottish Government call for SFA to investigate Celtic’s controversial Dubai training camp

The Scottish Government have called on the SFA to investigate Celtic‘s training trip to Dubai — with Deputy First Minister John Swinney accusing the Parkhead club of setting a bad example during the Covid crisis.

However, Celtic hit back on Monday night by insisting they gained full approval from the authorities before booking their winter training camp in the United Arab Emirates. 

Nicola Sturgeon announced on Monday that Scotland is being plunged back into a national lockdown including strict travel restrictions amid soaring Covid-19 infection rates.

Celtic players train during their winter training camp in Dubai, which has received criticism

And, with all but essential travel outlawed from midnight, Swinney claimed that Celtic’s decision to go ahead with their trip to the Emirates was ‘not a good idea’.

Holyrood have now issued a statement urging the SFA to look into the details of the trip, with a veiled threat of removing special travel dispensation to professional sports teams if they ‘abuse’ their privileges.

It read: ‘Following the First Minister’s latest update to parliament, we would ask people not to travel internationally, across the UK or beyond their local authority unless absolutely essential.

‘We would expect the SFA to look into Celtic’s trip further. While there are travel exemptions in place for elite sports which are designed to facilitate international and European competition, if we feel they are being abused we will not hesitate to remove this privilege.’

Nicola Sturgeon announced on Monday that Scotland would be heading back into lockdown

Nicola Sturgeon announced on Monday that Scotland would be heading back into lockdown

Those words took football by surprise after there was dialogue between the Scottish Government, the SFA’s Joint Response Group and Celtic before the trip was approved.

In response on Monday night, Celtic claimed they received the green light for the Dubai training trip before booking flights.

Management and players flew out to the Middle East just hours after their 1-0 defeat by Rangers at Ibrox on Saturday.

The club stated: ‘The training camp was arranged a number of months ago and approved by all relevant footballing authorities and the Scottish Government through the Joint Response Group on 12th November, 2020.

‘The team travelled prior to any new lockdown being in place, to a location exempt from travel restrictions. The camp, the same one as we have undertaken for a number of years has been fully risk-assessed.

Neil Lennon has taken his players to Dubai off the back of their defeat against rivals Rangers

Neil Lennon has taken his players to Dubai off the back of their defeat against rivals Rangers

‘If the club had not received Scottish Government approval, then we would not have travelled.’

Quizzed on BBC Radio Scotland, Swinney provided assurances that the latest lockdown will not prevent Parkhead players and staff from coming back home as planned, nor prompt a period of quarantine on their return this weekend.

‘They will be allowed back in but they will have to follow all rules in the process,’ said Swinney.

‘Frankly, I don’t think it’s a very good idea to be doing that at this stage.’

Pressed on whether the trip was a good idea or whether it should carry consequences for the club, he added: ‘I don’t think it’s a particularly great example to set to people.

Celtic's Twitter account posted photos fo the players being put through their paces in the sun

Celtic’s Twitter account posted photos fo the players being put through their paces in the sun

‘When we are asking members of the public to take on very significant restrictions on the way in which they live their lives, I think we all have to demonstrate leadership on this particular question.’

Despite the latest government restrictions, it was announced that those ‘involved in professional sports, for training, coaching or competing in an event’ would be allowed to leave their homes under the new guidelines.

While senior figures within the SPFL and SFA fear the latest restrictions could eventually affect the game in the lower leagues, there remains no sign of a repeat of last March when football was suspended.

‘We don’t want to do things that aren’t absolutely necessary, but we want to do enough to control the virus as we roll out the vaccine,’ said Swinney.

‘The return of professional sport has been a source of interest and focus for individuals. We want to make sure people can have balances in life and that’s what we try to strike.

Scotland's Deputy First Minister John Swinney insisted that Celtic's trip sets a bad example

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney insisted that Celtic’s trip sets a bad example

‘These decisions are never straightforward and we are trying to strike the right balance. In relation to professional sporting events, there is no ability to have crowds there.

‘But people can watch the football on the television, so there is a balance being struck that enables people to still follow their teams, but not in the normal fashion.’

Professional sport in Scotland has been given the go-ahead to carry on regardless despite the strict new measures to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Scottish football escaped the worst effects of new lockdown guidelines after it was confirmed that the top seven tiers of the national sport will be exempt.

Elite-level rugby has also been given the all-clear to carry on but the new rules are likely to decimate grassroots sport.

Rangers players celebrate their vital goal that secured them a victory in the Old Firm derby

Rangers players celebrate their vital goal that secured them a victory in the Old Firm derby

Under the terms of the agreement which was reached to restart football following the first national lockdown last March, relaxation of travel and mixing rules were introduced to cover pretty much the entire pro pyramid.

Sportsmail understands that the new exemptions will continue to cover all tiers previously included — meaning East of Scotland, West of Scotland and South of Scotland clubs, for instance, can carry on with fixtures.

There will also be no impact on this weekend’s Scottish Cup second-round fixtures.

Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh are also free to carry on playing, with the second of their back-to-back Pro14 fixtures to be played on Friday night.

But optimistic plans to have hundreds, if not thousands, of fans back at football and rugby games within a matter of weeks now look remote in the extreme following the legally-enforceable restrictions put in place on Monday.


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