Neil Lennon has defended Celtic’s trip to Dubai after Nicola Sturgeon claimed the Scottish Premiership side had questions to answer.

The First Minister commented that photographs she has seen from Celtic’s training camp suggested the squad might not be complying with social distancing guidelines.

Lennon has refuted Sturgeon’s claims

Lennon has refuted Sturgeon’s claims

Celtic, however, insisted that they had received Scottish Government approval for their mid-season trip following criticism of the timing of their excursion, two days before Scotland went into lockdown from already strict restrictions.

Travel, even within Scotland, is only permitted for ‘essential reasons’ and the Scottish Government asked the Scottish Football Association to investigate the matter on Monday.

Speaking at her media briefing on Tuesday, Sturgeon said: “As I understand it, the Scottish Government gave some advice to the SFA about the rules around elite training camps back in November last year. The world around the pandemic has changed quite a bit since November.

“It’s not our role to sign off or agree or not agree on what a football club does in terms of training camps. We set out what the rules are.

“The rules have been – and they may need to change given the changing nature of the pandemic – that elite sports can go overseas for training camps if that’s important in the context of their training for competitions.

“For me, the question for Celtic – and I am trying to be diplomatic here – is not so much ‘are they overseas at a training camp?’. It may be, given changing circumstances, that in future that won’t be appropriate.

Lennon has come under intense pressure at Celtic this season

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Lennon has come under intense pressure at Celtic this season

“But that’s not really the question. It’s ‘what is the purpose of them being there’?

“I’ve seen a comment from the club that said it’s 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 about whether all the rules at what elite players have to do in their bubble around social distancing are being complied with.

“So I think there are things there that should be looked into.”

Sturgeon added that sports teams should not ‘abuse’ their privileges. Lennon claimed Celtic had put all the relevant protocols in place.

“As the club said yesterday, the camp was arranged some time ago, with the full consultation of the footballing authorities and given approval by the Scottish Government,” he told the club’s official website.

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“Of course, we understand that we are in very unique and difficult times and there are now even tougher restrictions in place at home, but the camp is risk assessed and arranged in conjunction with Scottish football’s Joint Response Group.

“We have put in place all the appropriate protocols and we have undertaken the camp as we see the sporting benefits from it and hope it can do for us what it has done in the past.

“From the first day of camp yesterday and into today, the boys have been working tremendously hard as we always do on a camp which has served us so well over recent seasons.

“And that will be the format for the rest of the week, very tough, but productive and important sessions to get us ready for the second half of the season.”


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