On the 2nd of January 2021 Celtic FC flew out of an Old Firm Derby loss to Dubai for a warm weather training camp in a season consisting of a long schedule with no winter break because of the effect of Covid-19.
After the Derby, Celtic were 19 points behind Rangers in a season where they are aiming to break Rangers record for consecutive titles, they are aiming for the legendary ten titles. So, the pressure is on Celtic to win the title.
Since 2017, Celtic have gone to Dubai for some warm weather training to prepare for the second part of the season. This season is obviously quite different to any other. Coronavirus has restricted peoples lives in terms of family gatherings, pubs/restaurants closing and holidays not happening for the majority of citizens, with the exception of elite athletes. The majority of Scottish Premiership clubs decided not to go aboard for warm weather training, including Rangers, due to the risk of catching the virus.
Celtics trip to Dubai was allowed in November by the Scottish Government when restrictions were not as tight for the country, but still the trip went ahead. The Scottish government could have changed their mind and said restrictions have changed and banned their trip but did not. It emerged during this trip that the team consisting of the team squad and staff were pictured not wearing masks and not social distancing with one of the pictures clearly showing Neil Lennon (the Celtic manager) and Scott Brown (the Celtic captain) socialising over a beer near the pool.
Nicola Sturgeon suggested that the trip should be looked at and commented on the disappointment over the trip when she said, ‘I can’t tell you how disappointed and frustrated I am to be facing another briefing to be dominated by football…think out of respect for the rest of the population living under heavy restrictions, that these privileges are not abused’
Whenever the squad returned to Glasgow, during a press conference the assistant manager John Kennedy admitted that Celtic were guilty of a few ‘minor slip ups’ but also stated the club tried to stick to the guidelines the best they could, "We speak to the players as much as we can about the protocols. If there's any error we try to eradicate that or fix it, and that's what we did. The photo maybe paints a bleak picture, but we have to move on."
Before their match they were all tested and one of the players tested positive, Christopher Jullien who is currently injured for at least four months. Chris Sutton (ex-Celtic player) asked an important question as to why Christopher Jullien was the on the trip in the first place - he had only just gotten injured at the end of last year.
This meant that 13 first team players and three members of staff (including Neil Lennon) now have to self-isolate as they are considered ‘close-contacts’. This will deeply harm their season if they are to catch Steven Gerrard’s Rangers as can already be shown in their match on the 11/01/21 with a 1-1 draw against Hibernian which leaves them 21 points behind Rangers with 3 games in hand. However, one of the players that did play in this match was Shane Duffy who was a part of the Dubai squad but left early for personal reasons. Surely, he would have been a close contact??
This is not the first time Celtic has been involved in a coronavirus incident. At the start of the season when Celtic player Boli Bolingoli admitted he played against Kilmarnock despite having recently returned from Spain without quarantining. He was charged by the police for breaching quarantine regulations.
In conclusion, the Scottish Government did grant permission to Celtic months before the actual trip but should have reviewed this before closer to the time of the trip. When Celtic went onto this trip, they were opening themselves up for a lot of criticism for the slightest of slip up. They should have taken this into consideration. On this trip the team and staff should have stuck to the guidelines to the letter to not get scrutinised by the media and the public.
In Scotland until recently all professional leagues from the Premiership to League 2 have been able to play football week in week out as they are defined as elite sports. In Northern Ireland, only the Premiership is considered as elite. This means teams such as Queen’s University have not played a game this season yet and the Premiership is currently postponed because of Covid-19 rates. This is peoples employment being postponed, no football means no money, career or financial support. Scottish football is being allowed to be continued amidst rising rates and numerous breaches of Covid restrictions whereas Queen’s University are being punished for just wanting to play football.
Adam Aicken is a 3rd year politics student studying at Queen’s University