Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell has admitted the club’s winter training camp in Dubai was a “mistake”.
One player tested positive for coronavirus on their return, forcing 13 others and manager Neil Lennon to miss Monday’s game with Hibs.
Lawwell has now apologised to supporters in a video published on the Celtic website, describing what’s happened as “very regrettable” and claiming no other club has been as badly affected by the pandemic.
Celtic’s bid to claim a tenth successive title has been severely dented in the first half of the season, with the champions 21 points behind leaders Rangers.
Lawwell said: ”On reflection, looking back and looking with hindsight and looking at the outcome of the trip, clearly it was a mistake and for that I profoundly apologise to our supporters.
“This horrific pandemic has affected the whole of society. It’s affected people here in Scotland, it’s affected our supporters, it’s affected our football and it’s affected our club – probably our club more than any.”
Celtic have faced stinging criticism over the trip, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying she’d been left “disappointed and frustrated” after pictures on social media appeared to show players breaching social-distancing guidelines as they relaxed at their hotel.
The club has insisted it had approval to make the journey under rules which exempt elite athletes from travel restrictions.
Lawwell described some of the criticism as “unfair”, but said he understood why the decision to travel was being questioned.
Christopher Jullien tested positive after the squad returned to Glasgow, with 13 players and three backroom staff members – including Lennon and his assistant John Kennedy – ordered to self-isolate.
A makeshift side led by coach Gavin Strachan was cobbled together to play in their 1-1 draw with Hibs on Monday night.
Lawwell said the squad travelled to the training camp in Dubai – as they have done in previous years – in a bid to improve their form.
He said: “If you look back over the last four years, going to the camp in Dubai has been extremely successful.
“And the decisions we made in entirely for the best interests of the team and the best interests of the club.
“What we planned to do was take them to these facilities again, which are world-class, after a very hectic programme in November and December, which has in the past proven to be a great benefit in terms of performance after January, to get to that performance level again.”