Celtic face investigation into Dubai break that ruled out 13 players

Celtic face an SFA investigation into Dubai break that ruled out THIRTEEN players as close contacts of a Covid positive team-mate… but club insist they DON’T regret trip amid questions from furious Nicola Sturgeon over if it REALLY WAS ‘essential’

  • Celtic face intensifying scrutiny over the protocols in place on their Dubai trip 
  • Injured defender Christopher Jullien has since tested positive for Covid-19
  • Celtic lost 13 first-team players as close contacts as well as boss Neil Lennon
  • Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is unimpressed with Celtic’s conduct 

Celtic could face disciplinary action over alleged rule breaches on their calamitous trip to Dubai — with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon again calling for an SFA investigation.

The club confirmed on Monday that defender Christopher Jullien tested positive for Covid after returning from the UAE, while 13 players plus boss Neil Lennon and assistant John Kennedy missed the 1-1 draw with Hibernian at Parkhead because they had to self- isolate as close contacts.

The SFA remain satisfied there is no need to look into Celtic’s decision to jet to the Middle East because it was approved by the Scottish Government. But SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell confirmed their compliance officer will investigate alleged breaches of protocol in Dubai.

Celtic face an SFA investigation over their alleged rule breaks on the recent trip to Dubai

Nicola Sturgeon questioned the trip after pictures emerged of staff and players sitting close

Celtic had 13 players ruled out of Monday’s game with Hibernian, as well as manager Neil Lennon and his assistant John Kennedy, where a much-changed side drew 1-1

The news came as the SFA announced all football below the Championship will shut down for three weeks because of the worsening pandemic. 

Stenhousemuir chairman Iain McMenemy insisted lower- league clubs have been ‘martyred’ by the SFA in a bid to placate government anger over Celtic’s trip and the pressure is mounting on the champions, with Celtic assistant Kennedy’s admission they were guilty of ‘minor slip-ups’ in protocol in Dubai doing little to defuse the situation.

SFA chief Maxwell said: ‘The trip was government-approved. There’s nothing to see there. In terms of any alleged breaches that happened during their trip, we have a well-used disciplinary process. We have a compliance officer who looks at all sorts of alleged breaches over all sorts of alleged incidents.

‘Everything we are made aware of goes through that process and it would be foolish to say we have not been made aware of issues potentially with Celtic being abroad. If there are things that need to be looked at, then that’s what we will do.’

The First Minister again urged the football authorities to look into whether the trip was ‘essential’.

‘As in any situation like this, it’s up to the football authorities to decide whether further action is necessary,’ she said. ‘It’s for them to consider that carefully.

‘But this whole episode should underline how serious the situation we’re in right now is. And why everyone, including football, should be erring on the side of caution.

‘Fans of other clubs feel very strongly that the whole of football should not pay the price for the actions of any one club, whoever they may be. And I agree with that. 

‘But a situation like this does make it essential for us to review the rules, including those around travel exemptions. I hope Celtic will themselves reflect seriously on all of this. I think the football authorities should look at whether the trip was essential. ‘Elite sport — and this is not all just about football — have privileges because we want our sportspeople to do well and be able to train. But those privileges can’t be abused.’

The Scottish champions visited the Middle East as part of a warm weather training camp  

Defender Christopher Jullien, who is currently injured, has tested positive for coronavirus

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

Maxwell denied feeling pressurised by Holyrood. ‘I don’t feel under pressure about it at all,’ he said. ‘The First Minister is right. Any potential breach of a rule or a potential Covid breach is up to the governing body. It’s not for the government to be involved in. They don’t micro-manage Scottish football.’

Celtic bullishly claimed one of their players could have caught Covid even if the team had remained in Scotland, adding in a statement: ‘Celtic has done everything it can to ensure we have in place the very best procedures and protocols. From the outset of the pandemic, Celtic has worked closely with the Scottish Government and Scottish football and we will continue to do so.’

And Celtic stand-in boss Gavin Strachan insisted there were no regrets over the club’s contentious mid-season break to Dubai. 

He defended their decision to take crocked star Christopher Jullien with them to the Middle East — despite his subsequent Covid diagnosis forcing 13 team-mates into self-isolation. 

Strachan said: ‘There’s regret that one person has caught the virus — but there’s not a regret in terms of the permission we got to go and the protocols that we followed, which we have done the whole season.

‘It’s regrettable we got one positive, which we could have got at any time. It’s a trip that’s been done over the last few years and it has yielded very positive results, so the thinking was to maintain that and try to galvanise and push in the second half of the season.

‘The work we did out there was absolutely fantastic. We had more time to work on certain elements of our game because of the good weather. The only regrettable thing is someone has come back with a positive test.’

On the decision to take Jullien despite his injury, Strachan said: ‘It was to maintain his treatment with the backroom staff. He went over there so we can get him back as fast as we can.’

Celtic stand-in manager Gavin Strachan defended the decision to take Jullien to Dubai

But Maxwell believes Celtic will reassess their decision. ‘Technically, under the rules, yes they were allowed to go,’ he said. ‘Should they have gone? That’s something everyone has an opinion on and I’m sure Celtic are asking themselves that very question.

‘(Travelling abroad) adds a level of risk. It probably makes sense that clubs don’t give themselves that risk at this point in time.’

Maxwell accepted Scotland’s footballers also breached Covid regulations abroad in their celebrations after beating Serbia in October to qualify for Euro 2020. But he added: ‘The difference is, the perception element of all of this is that Celtic shouldn’t have gone given where they are in the league.

SFA chief Ian Maxwell believes Celtic will reassess the decisions made over the trip to Dubai

Football in Scotland has been paused for three weeks aside from the top two divisions

‘We were fortunate we won a game that meant a huge amount to the country. We did something that technically wasn’t in line with the protocols, but everyone loved it.

‘It’s the perception that is a big challenge around this (Celtic incident). But… it’s not something, with hindsight, we should be doing or encouraging.’

Maxwell also rejected claims the shutdown at lower- league level was done to placate Holyrood. He said: ‘I can guarantee this decision is not linked to Celtic. It was talked about long before anything else that happened at the weekend.’

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