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Celtic: Dubai trip not ‘great example’ says Deputy FM John Swinney

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Neil Lennon at Glasgow Airport
Neil Lennon’s Celtic flew to Dubai from Glasgow Airport on Saturday

Celtic have been accused of not setting “a particularly great example” by flying to Dubai on a training camp by Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

And the Scottish government has threatened to remove travel exemptions for elite sport “if we feel they are being abused”.

Celtic travelled to the United Arab Emirates on Saturday just hours after their Old Firm defeat.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Mr Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland.

Travellers returning from the UAE are exempt from self-isolation protocols in Scotland, with elite athletes in Scotland permitted to travel abroad to compete.

However, with mainland Scotland in Tier 4 – the highest level of restrictions – since Boxing Day, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon ordering members of the public to stay at home throughout January on Monday, Mr Swinney says there is a duty to “demonstrate leadership”.

“I don’t think it’s a particularly great example to set,” he told BBC Radio Scotland’s Drivetime.

“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.”

When approached for comment by BBC Scotland, Celtic defended their trip, insisting it had been approved by the Scottish government.

However, that is at odds with a government statement, who say elite sport athletes in Scotland are allowed to travel abroad to participate in a competition.

“We would expect the SFA to look into Celtic’s trip further,” it read.

“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.”

In November, Celtic requested their fixture with Hibernian, originally scheduled for this weekend, be moved to Monday, 11 January to accommodate the trip, with the SPFL granting the change.

A Celtic spokesman told BBC Scotland: “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 12th November 2020.

“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.”

Neil Lennon’s side, who have won the previous nine league titles, trail rivals Rangers by 19 points in the Scottish Premiership, having played three games fewer.

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