Celtic’s trip to Dubai just before the announcement of a national lockdown has been branded “mind-blowing” by rival fans.
The Glasgow club are currently in the United Arab Emirates amid an eight-day break in fixtures.
But Dundee United supporters group the ArabTRUST say the international trip should not have been allowed by footballing authorities, amid a huge spike in Covid-19 cases in the UK.
It comes after United were heavily criticised by the Scottish Government for a group photo featuring 49 first team players and staff taken without social distancing.
‘It’s basically a midseason holiday’
Vice chairman of the ArabTRUST, Stuart Campbell, said the club should explain the decision to fans and the public.
“How on earth did they manage to get away with this?” he said.
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) January 4, 2021
“It’s not essential and it’s nothing to do with football either.
“It would be different if they were going to Europe to play a game.
“This is basically a mid-season holiday.”
Manager Neil Lennon said the players are at a “training camp” and insisted it is “not a break”.
But fans, including those of Celtic, have raised eyebrows at the timing as a new strain of Covid-19 wreaks havoc across the UK.
Dubai trip compared to United’s team photo
Dundee United found itself at the centre of a storm in November when a team photo came to light showing players, coaches, and staff squeezed together for a photograph.
Just days after the photo was taken, the club was rocked by several cases of Covid-19, believed to have spread from an individual in the photo who had the virus.
He also said he expected it to be taken “extremely seriously” by ruling body the SPFL.
Mr Campbell questioned whether Celtic’s seven-hour 6200-mile flight is in the spirit of the rules.
He said: “Dundee United get criticised for a team photo and then you see what Celtic are up to.
“Is it one rule for them and one rule for others? That’s what it looks like.
“Like everyone else, I just think it’s mind-blowing.
“It’s bamboozling how they can get away with it.
“Personally, I think some questions should be asked.
“There are lots of rules on how people from the club can travel to a game in Scotland but Celtic are somehow able to squeeze in a holiday.
“Could we all be doing that? I’ve personally cancelled holidays like millions of people probably have.
What are the rules on overseas travel?
Celtic flew out shortly after the 1-0 loss to rivals Rangers on Saturday.
At the time, Glasgow was under strict Tier 4 restrictions, meaning the public could only leave home (or their garden) for an “essential purpose”.
The message from the Scottish Government has since become stricter.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says mainland Scotland residents should stay at home “as much as possible” as part of a new month-long national lockdown from January 5.
Football clubs in Scotland and the rest of the UK however are exempt from many of the rules which apply to the public.
The exemption is part of measures to allow the safe return of competitive sport.
It means teams do not have to follow social distancing during training and matches.
It also means they can fly together across Europe for competitive fixtures.
However, it is not known if these rules mean clubs can travel overseas for training purposes.
The UK Government currently says people are not be permitted to travel abroad apart from limited exceptions, such as work purposes.
Travellers returning to Scotland from United Arab Emirates do not currently have to self-isolate as it is among the roughly 80 countries exempt from the rule.
‘What is the purpose of the trip?’ First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Speaking during her daily briefing on Tuesday Ms Sturgeon warned sports clubs not to “abuse” the leeway they have been given and questioned if Celtic players were following rules while abroad.
She said: “For me the question for Celtic is not so much are they overseas at a training camp, it is what is the purpose of them being there?
“I have seen a comment from the club that said it is more for R and R than it is for training.
“I have also seen some photographs and I can only comment on what I have seen, I don’t know the full circumstances, that would raise a question in my mind whether all the rules of what elite players within their bubbles, around social distancing, are being complied with.
“I think there are some things there that should be looked into. Elite sport and this is not just Celtic, has been in a privileged position at many points over the last year doing things that the general public can’t do.
“As long as that is the case it is really important that they don’t abuse it and that they use it for the purpose intended and that applies to Celtic as it would anybody else in that position.”
A statement issued by Celtic FC said: “The training camp was arranged a number of months ago and approved by all relevant footballing authorities and the Scottish Government through the Joint Response Group on November 12.
“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.”
In response to the Scottish Government statement, the club has issued the following response:
‘The training camp was arranged a number of months ago & approved by all relevant footballing authorities & @scotgov through the Joint Response Group on 12th November 2020.
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) January 4, 2021
Deputy First Minister criticises travel
Celtic have been accused by deputy first minister John Swinney of not setting “a particularly great example” by flying to Dubai.
And the Scottish government has threatened to remove travel exemptions for elite sport “if we feel they are being abused”.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Mr Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland.
I don’t think it’s a particularly great example to set.
“When we are asking members of the public to take on very, very significant restrictions on the way in which they live their lives, I think we have all got to demonstrate leadership on this particular question.”
Despite Celtic insisting the Scottish Government approved the trip, a government statement said: “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 Scottish Football Association (SFA), and the Scottish Professional Football League have been approached for comment.