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League One and League Two suspended as Celtic’s Covid-19 crisis escalates – what have SFA and SPFL said?

Hampden chiefs found themselves in spotlight over SPFL vote.
Hampden: the SFA and SPFL HQ.

Scottish football below Championship level has been suspended by the SFA in tandem with the Scottish Government.

The drastic measure starts at midnight tonight and will remain in place until January 31, while no Scottish Cup ties will take place during that time.

The impacted leagues are: SPFL Leagues One and Two, Scottish Women’s Football Premier Leagues 1 & 2, Highland League, Lowland League, East, West and South of Scotland Leagues, Scottish Junior FA Leagues and the North Caledonian League.

The Premiership will play on “provided it continues to adhere to the stringent testing protocols” and the Championship is being allowed to continue but only “provided it commences weekly PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing” for Covid-19.

The SFA have been concerned by the increase in coronavirus cases in the country and have acted swiftly.

The governing body’s statement said: “The Scottish FA Board met last night to discuss the escalating COVID-19 situation across the country and its impact on the national game at all levels.

“While the updated Scottish Government guidance permits the continuation of professional sport, the board meeting, which followed a Joint Response Group discussion on the matter last Friday, nevertheless considered the implications of doing so at all tiers of the Scottish football professional pyramid, against a backdrop of increased positive cases across the country.

“In particular, the board gave extensive consideration to making a decision in the interests of public health, taking cognisance of the government’s wish to reduce travel and possible contact with others whilst safeguarding commercial broadcasting contracts that sustain the professional game.”

Working with government

The statement continued: “Following a meeting between the Scottish FA and the Minister for Public Health Sport and Wellbeing, both parties have agreed to impose a temporary suspension of all football beneath the Scottish Professional Football League Championship, encompassing all predominantly part-time tiers of the Scottish professional pyramid, from midnight tonight.

“The impacted leagues are: SPFL League One, SPFL League Two, Scottish Women’s Football Premier Leagues 1 & 2, Highland League, Lowland League, East, West & South of Scotland Leagues, Scottish Junior FA Leagues and the North Caledonian League.

“Based on the imperatives of acting in the best interests of public health and participant safety, whilst ensuring professional clubs’ survival, the SPFL Premiership will be exempt from the suspension, provided it continues to adhere to the stringent testing protocols.

SFA president Rod Petrie. Pic: Simon Cooper/PA Wire

“The SPFL Championship will also be able to continue provided it commences weekly PCR testing.

“The suspension of the game below the SPFL Premiership and Championship will be for three weeks, until 31st January, and will be reviewed on a rolling basis by the Scottish FA Board in partnership with Scottish Government.

“The Scottish Cup will also be suspended, with any matches scheduled to be played prior to the 1st February to be rescheduled in due course.”

Petrie confirms decision

Confirming the new move, SFA president Rod Petrie added: “The Scottish FA is well aware of the efforts all clubs take to comply with the exacting protocols that were conditional on elite football being given an exemption to continue amid the pandemic.

“Nonetheless the continuation of football at all levels has weighed increasingly heavy on me as president, my colleagues on the board and the Joint Response Group as we have watched the new strain of the virus spread rapidly.

“While the national sport has been afforded the privilege of elite sporting exemption, the risk of mass transportation of untested, largely part-time players is something that cannot be sustained as the cases continue to rise and available hospital beds become increasingly scarce.

“After discussions with the SPFL, the Premiership and Championship will continue on the proviso that both adhere to the existing testing regime. The vast majority of teams in those divisions are full-time professional clubs and so the risk of transmission remains manageably low. The cost implications to lower-division clubs was one factor but so too the realisation that many – with some notable exceptions – consist of part-time players who are either prevented from working due to the virus or have to work.

“In either case, the risk is currently too great amid the developing nationwide spread of the virus.

“Much has been said of football’s relationship with the Scottish Government during the pandemic. As President of the Scottish FA and Chair of the Joint Response Group, I am grateful for the clinical expertise provided by government specifically to football and for the timely award of £30m in grant and loan funding for the game.

“We reiterate our commitment to playing our part in the collective effort to eradicate the virus.”

Celtic crisis deepens

Meanwhile, Celtic’s Dubai troubles are escalating.

As things stand, in the wake of their mid-season trip to the sun, 13 players plus three members of staff – including Neil Lennon and his No2 John Kennedy – have been ordered into self-isolation after Hoops defender Christopher Jullien tested positive for coronavirus.

Celtic boss Neil Lennon pictured at Glasgow Airport ahead of Dubai trip.
Celtic boss Neil Lennon pictured at Glasgow Airport ahead of Dubai trip.

The Parkhead side are scheduled to play Hibs in the Premiership this evening.

They said in a statement: “Celtic Football Club confirmed today that Christopher Jullien has tested positive for Covid-19 and is self-isolating at home. We wish Christopher a speedy recovery.

“While all of the other members of the squad and backroom team have tested negative, we have been informed by the authorities that, having been deemed ‘close contacts’, Celtic manager Neil Lennon, assistant John Kennedy and 13 first-team players will be required to self-isolate on a precautionary basis as required by the current regulations.

“The club would like to thank the Scottish FA, JRG and the Scottish Government for their assistance in managing this case.

“Celtic will, of course, fulfil its fixture against Hibernian this evening.

“Clearly we are hugely disappointed, as we know our supporters will be.

“The contacts were identified during the period from Wednesday last week, primarily around flight and team coach travel, during which time Celtic applied the same rigorous protocols used for pre-season training camps, UEFA match travel and for all domestic match arrangements in Scotland.

“These protocols have served us well in the past, as the Club has not had one positive case in our own ‘bubble’ until now.

“As we have already stated, Celtic’s decision to travel to Dubai for a training camp was for performance reasons.

“Whilst we were in Dubai, the announcements made on January 4 significantly changed the Covid landscape.

“The reality is that a case could well have occurred had the team remained in Scotland, as other cases have done in Scottish football and across UK sport in the past week.

“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.”

What have the SPFL said on the Covid-19 controversies?

Shortly after statements from the SFA and Celtic, SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster issued one of his own.

He said: “We have been in very regular contact with our colleagues at the SFA in light of the latest worrying developments regarding the spread of Covid.

“The SPFL Board met this morning and fully supports the Scottish FA’s proportionate and appropriate response to the worsening situation across the country.

“It is a sensible and necessary step which balances the need for the game to continue to play its part in limiting the spread of the virus whilst also ensuring that the top two divisions, which provide the overwhelming bulk of the income which supports the wider game, are able to be maintained for the good of the entire sport.”

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