Celtic have been rocked by the news 13 players and three members of their coaching staff have been forced to isolate after their controversial trip to Dubai, on the day they are meant to play Hibernian.
Celtic spent six days in the UAE, where pictures emerged showing members of the squad not distancing or wearing face coverings. After being tested upon their return to Glasgow, they had one positive case in defender Christopher Jullien, who is currently injured for the next four months. Manager Neil Lennon and assistant John Kennedy are among those now isolating.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who had questioned whether Celtic were following social distancing rules, said on Monday: ‘Elite sport has privileges and these privileges can’t be abused. I hope Celtic reflect seriously.’
Celtic insist their Monday fixture against Hibs will go ahead but the news emerges on the day that football across Scotland underneath the top two divisions was halted in an attempt to curb the ongoing rise in Covid-19 cases.
Celtic confirmed on Sunday one player tested positive for Covid-19 after their trip to Dubai
Defender Christopher Jullien, who is currently injured, has tested positive for coronavirus
The Scottish champions visited the Middle East as part of a warm weather training camp
The Scottish champions said in a statement on Monday: ‘While all of the other members of the squad and backroom team have tested negative, we have been informed by the authorities that, having been deemed “close contacts”, Celtic manager Neil Lennon, assistant John Kennedy and 13 first-team players will be required to self-isolate on a precautionary basis as required by the current regulations.’
But the club in their statement moved to distance the positive case with their trip to Dubai.
‘Clearly we are hugely disappointed, as we know our supporters will be. The contacts were identified during the period from Wednesday last week, primarily around flight and team coach travel, during which time Celtic applied the same rigorous protocols used for pre-season training camps, UEFA match travel and for all domestic match arrangements in Scotland.
‘These protocols have served us well in the past, as the club has not had one positive case in our own ‘bubble’ until now. As we have already stated, Celtic’s decision to travel to Dubai for a training camp was for performance reasons.
‘The reality is that a case could well have occurred had the team remained in Scotland, as other cases have done in Scottish football and across UK sport in the past week.’
Celtic had already faced criticism over their warm-weather training camp, with First Minister Sturgeon questioning whether they were complying with social-distancing rules after photographs emerged on social media.
The pictures showed members of the Celtic squad not distancing nor wearing face coverings.
The injured defender Jullien was pictured in close contact with a team-mate as he made his way down the stairs at Glasgow airport following the club’s trip to Dubai
Celtic manager Neil Lennon is one of the three members of coaching staff who must isolate
Lennon pictured on Friday as Celtic returned to Glasgow after their trip to Dubai
Assistant manager John Kennedy said on Saturday, the day after the squad returned, that Celtic were guilty of ‘minor slip-ups’ by not adhering to Covid-19 protocols on their training trip.
‘You probably get a snapshot of one or two pictures that might kick around from maybe local people… it paints a picture which is probably a bit false,’ Kennedy said.
‘The whole week, we had a lot of work put in place making sure everything was ready for us. In terms of the protocol in Dubai, the hotel worked very hard with us in terms of giving us our own areas – we had our own tower, our own eating places, our own meeting groups.
‘We got pretty much left with our own entrance and exits. At no point did we go into the main part of the building. Before we went there we took advice.
‘There has been slip-ups, minor things which if you get a snapshot you can criticise and jump on it. We, as much as we possibly can, speak to the players about the protocols they must adhere to. We want to abide by all the rules and if there is any error then we try to eradicate that.’
Nicola Sturgeon questioned the trip after pictures emerged of staff and players sitting close
Celtic assistant John Kennedy admitted there had been ‘slip-ups’ while the team were in Dubai
The SPFL also suspended football underneath Scotland’s top two tiers for three weeks as of Monday.
The Scottish Premiership will be exempt from the suspension, provided it continues to adhere to the stringent testing protocols, and the Championship will also be able to continue provided it commences weekly PCR testing.
Rod Petrie, Scottish FA president, said: ‘The Scottish FA is well aware of the efforts all clubs take to comply with the exacting protocols that were conditional on elite football being given an exemption to continue amid the pandemic.
‘Nonetheless the continuation of football at all levels has weighed increasingly heavy on me as president, my colleagues on the board and the Joint Response Group as we have watched the new strain of the virus spread rapidly.
Football in Scotland has been paused for three weeks aside from the top two divisions
‘While the national sport has been afforded the privilege of elite sporting exemption, the risk of mass transportation of untested, largely part-time players is something that cannot be sustained as the cases continue to rise and available hospital beds become increasingly scarce.
‘After discussions with the SPFL, the Premiership and Championship will continue on the proviso that both adhere to the existing testing regime.
‘The vast majority of teams in those divisions are full-time professional clubs and so the risk of transmission remains manageably low.
‘The cost implications to lower-division clubs was one factor but so too the realisation that many – with some notable exceptions – consist of part-time players who are either prevented from working due to the virus or have to work.
‘In either case, the risk is currently too great amid the developing nationwide spread of the virus.’