Celtic have defended their trip to a winter training camp in the United Arab Emirates, saying they received approval from the Scottish Government before departing for the Middle East.
The Parkhead club said the training camp in Dubai was arranged “a number of months ago” and was approved by all relevant footballing authorities and the Scottish Government through the Joint Response Group on November 12.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Celtic said: “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.
“If the club had not received Scottish Government approval then we would not have travelled.”
The statement comes after a Scottish Government spokesperson said they would expect the Scottish Football Association to “look into Celtic’s trip further”.
The spokesperson said: “Following the First Minister’s latest update to Parliament, we would ask people not to travel internationally, across the U.K. 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 won’t hesitate to remove this privilege.”
The United Arab Emirates is on the Scottish Government’s exempt list, meaning travellers do not have to self-isolate on their return.
But even before Monday’s new restrictions were introduced, travel was only permitted for “essential reasons”.
Hoops boss Neil Lennon insisted the trip was “not a break” for his team but it has not gone down with large swathes of the Parkhead faithful, who now find themselves living under new strict new Covid restrictions introduced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday – just 48 hours after their team slipped 19 points behind bitter rivals Rangers with Saturday’s Old Firm defeat.
Meanwhile, former St Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour blasted Celtic’s controversial Dubai “jolly” – but claims it could be key to his old club winning their docked points appeal.
The Buddies and Kilmarnock both face a hearing on January 14 to decide whether the 3-0 forfeits imposed on them will stand.
Saints fear they could miss out on six points and Killie three after both clubs were forced to call off games back in October as a result of Covid-19 breaches.
The Paisley side were punished after they suffered an outbreak of the virus, which was allowed to spread because Jim Goodwin’s players failed to self-isolate – with some even sharing car journeys together.
But Gilmour believes the punishments meted out to St Mirren following a Scottish Professional Football League investigation do not fit the crime and claims there are double standards at play, with Celtic currently in Dubai for a warm weather training camp.
But Gilmour says the fact Celtic are in the Middle East will only strengthen Saints’ case for leniency when they go before their Hampden hearing next week.