Lennon defends Celtic's trip to Dubai amid Scottish govt questions

Neil Lennon defends Celtic’s mid-season training trip to Dubai and insists they ‘have been working tremendously hard’ as Scottish government questions motives after photographs emerge of players and staff drinking alcohol

  • Celtic travelled to Dubai for a warm-weather training camp after Rangers defeat 
  • Club have received backlash for travelling as Scotland enters another lockdown
  • Photos have emerged of the players and staff drinking in a hotel while in Dubai 

Neil Lennon broke cover on Tuesday night to defend Celtic’s trip to Dubai – after Nicola Sturgeon had publicly questioned its validity.

The Parkhead club flew out to the United Arab Emirates on Saturday for the pre-arranged training camp just hours after losing to Rangers to fall 19 points behind in the title race.

Despite the fact that Scotland was preparing to go back into lockdown, Lennon and his squad were legally entitled to make the trip due to the exemption elite sport continues to enjoy in the middle of the pandemic.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has defended their trip to Dubai for some mid-season training

Celtic players train during their winter training camp in Dubai, which has received criticism

But the Parkhead club drew widespread criticism when photographs emerged online apparently showing players and staff drinking alcohol at their hotel.

Although that’s currently permitted in the UAE, the images led to the First Minister on Tuesday asking if the club were in Dubai for the right reasons.

Stressing that the trip had been arranged with the approval of the Scottish Government and the football authorities, though, Lennon said its only purpose was sporting benefit.

‘We are sure the camp will be really important for us,’ he said.

‘It is the same format as previous years, obviously with one significant difference being the protocols in place for Covid, but we hope that we get the same lift from it and can go on another great run in the New Year as we did last season, that’s our real focus just now.

‘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.

‘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.

Nicola Sturgeon has questioned the trip after pictures emerged of staff and players drinking

‘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.’

Speaking earlier in the day in response to inquiries about the photographs, Sturgeon questioned if the purpose of the trip tallied with the grounds which had seen exemptions for elite sports granted.

‘For me, the question for Celtic – and I try to be diplomatic here – is not so much are they overseas at a training camp,’ she said.

‘It may be, given the changed circumstances, in future that won’t be appropriate.

‘That’s not really the question. What is the purpose of them being there?

‘I’ve seen a comment from the club that said it’s more for R&R than it is for training.’

Celtic’s players and manager left for Dubai after their 1-0 defeat by Rangers on Saturday

Celtic have hit back at criticism saying they had permission to go to the training camp

Sturgeon also said she had seen some of the photographs in question, saying it ‘raised a question’ whether ‘all the rules on what elite players have to do within their bubbles around social distancing are being complied with.’

She added: ‘There are things there that should be looked into.’

And the FM said all elite sports teams, many of whom have been able to play while most people have had so many things restricted, should not abuse their position.

‘This is not just about Celtic or football,’ she insisted. ‘Elite sport 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 – and we all want our sports teams to do well and be able to train properly – it’s really important that they don’t abuse it.

‘Use it for the purpose it’s intended. That applies to Celtic as it would to anyone else in that position.’

Sturgeon announced on Monday that Scotland would be heading back into lockdown

On Monday, Celtic defended the decision to press ahead with the trip, insisting in a statement it had received approval for it by ‘all relevant footballing authorities and the Scottish Government through the Joint Response Group on 12th November 2020.’

But Sturgeon responded by saying that the Scottish Government only provided ‘advice to the SFA’ on back in November.

‘The world around the pandemic has changed quite a bit since November,’ she continued.

‘We would not and it’s not our role to sign-off, agree or not agree what a football club does in terms of training camps.

‘We set out what the rules are. The rules may have to change due to the changing nature of the pandemic.

‘Elite sports can go overseas for training camps if that’s important in the context of their training for competitions.

‘That, as I understand it, is what we set out as the rules.’

Celtic’s Twitter account posted photos fo the players being put through their paces in the sun

Celtic’s social media platforms on Tuesday contained images of the players being put through their paces in the sunshine.

Stressing the importance the camp has played in the club’s success over the past four seasons, midfielder Callum McGregor said: ‘The camp lets us come away into the warm climate and have intense training, and that’s the main benefit of the fitness work – it’s something you can’t replicate at home in the cold weather.

‘The added benefit of the heat improves your fitness when you’re working at that intensity, it gives you a different level of fitness when you go back, and it’s pretty much impossible to recreate that back in the colder climate.

‘The objective of the camp is to work as hard as we possibly can and take that into the next stretch of the season. It’s slightly different circumstances this time, but the trip and its purpose is exactly the same: we come here, we train exceptionally hard, we hit the reset button and then we go again.

‘The trip has been the same for the last few years, as have the benefits of that in terms of fitness work, keeping everyone at their sharpest and getting the boys who’ve maybe not played as much football up to speed.’

Meanwhile, defender Shane Duffy left Dubai on Tuesday morning but it’s not thought to signal the end of his loan spell at the club.

The Irishman boarded a morning flight to London with club sources insisting it was for personal rather than professional reasons.

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