Neil Lennon says Celtic’s winter training camp in Dubai has all the necessary Covid protocols in place, amid a growing furore over the club’s decision to fly out to the Middle East.
Lennon also reiterated comments made by the club on Monday evening – saying that the trip was given approval by the Scottish Government.
He was speaking just hours after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she believes Celtic have questions to answer over their trip while Scotland deals with heightened restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Celtic players and staff flew out to Dubai following their 1-0 defeat to Rangers on January 2 and are to spend a week training in the United Arab Emirates.
This visit marks the Celtic’s fifth successive annual trip to the UAE and Lennon says the camp provides “unparalleled benefits” for his players and coaching staff.
He said: “We are sure the camp will be really important for us. It is the same format as previous years, obviously with one significant difference being the protocols in place for Covid, but we hope that we get the same lift from it and can go on another great run in the New Year as we did last season, that’s our real focus just now.
“As the club said yesterday, the camp was arranged some time ago, with the full consultation of the footballing authorities and given approval by the Scottish Government. Of course, we understand that we are in very unique and difficult times and there are now even tougher restrictions in place at home, but the camp is risk assessed and arranged in conjunction with Scottish football’s Joint Response Group.
“We have put in place all the appropriate protocols and we have undertaken the camp as we see the sporting benefits from it and hope it can do for us what it has done in the past.”
Pictures from the trip, that appear to show players and staff drinking at a hotel, have drawn criticism, with deputy first minister John Swinney saying the trip was “not a good idea” and calling on the Scottish Football Association to “look into” the trip.
Elite sportspeople are permitted to travel abroad for training and Dubai is currently on the exemption list and does not require travellers to quarantine on return to Scotland.
Asked about the trip at her daily briefing, Sturgeon said that from what she has seen and read there appeared to be an issue that needs addressed.
She said: “For me, the question for Celtic, and I’ll try to be diplomatic here, is not so much are they overseas at a training camp, it may be given the changed circumstances that in future that won’t be appropriate, but the question is what is the purpose of them being there?
“I’ve seen a comment from the club that said it’s more R&R than it is for training.
“I’ve also seen some photographs, and I can only comment on what I’ve seen and I don’t know the full circumstances, but they would raise a question in my mind about whether all the rules of what elite players have to do within their bubbles and around social distancing are being complied with.
“So I think there are things there that should be looked into.”
Travel, even within Scotland, is only permitted for “essential reasons” and the Scottish Government asked the Scottish Football Association to investigate the matter on Monday.