(Reuters) - Celtic's warm-weather training camp in Dubai is not a good idea and the Scottish side should have shown more leadership amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said.
The Scottish champions travelled to the United Arab Emirates on Saturday, shortly after their 1-0 defeat at Rangers that left Neil Lennon's second-placed side 19 points behind their "Old Firm" rivals with three games in hand.
"I don't think it's a good idea," Swinney told the BBC about Celtic's trip to Dubai. "I don't think it's a particularly great example to set.
"When we're asking members of the public to take on very significant restrictions on the way in which they live their lives... we have all got to demonstrate leadership on this particular question."
Lennon said that the training camp is being held with COVID-19 protocols in place and is "risk assessed".
"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," he said in a club statement https://www.celticfc.com/news/2021/january/Manager-All-of-our-hard-work-at-winter-camp-is-geared-towards-performance.
"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."
British media reported that the Scottish government expects the country's Football Association to investigate Celtic's trip and could stop teams going abroad for European matches if travel exemptions are abused.
However, Celtic said the training camp was arranged months ago and approved by relevant soccer authorities as well as the government through the Joint Response Group on Nov. 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," Celtic said in a statement https://twitter.com/CelticFC/status/1346168206805917696.
"If the club hadn't received Scottish Government approval then we would not have travelled."
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Toby Davis.)