Hoops insist Scottish Premiership game against Hibernian will go ahead
Celtic have vowed to fulfil tonight's fixture against Hibernian despite 14 players, along with manager Neil Lennon and his assistant John Kennedy, being forced into self-isolation.
The squad and staff went on a highly-controversial trip to Dubai for a training camp last week. On arrival back in Scotland on Friday, they were all tested for Covid-19 and the club have now confirmed that defender Christopher Jullien return a positive result.
The remainder of the staff and playing squad tested negative but, having been deemed close contacts, 13 of Jullien's team-mates, as well as coaching duo Lennon and Kennedy, have been ordered to self-isolate by authorities.
Foreign training camps are within the rules for professional sports but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week questioned whether Celtic had been adhering to social distancing guidelines after seeing photos from their hotel.
The club statement, confirming Jullien's positive result and subsequent self-isolation requirements, released on Monday lunch-time read: "Clearly we are hugely disappointed, as we know our supporters will be.
"The contacts were identified during the period from Wednesday last week, primarily around flight and team coach travel, during which time Celtic applied the same rigorous protocols used for pre-season training camps, UEFA match travel and for all domestic match arrangements in Scotland.
"These protocols have served us well in the past, as the Club has not had one positive case in our own ‘bubble’ until now. As we have already stated, Celtic’s decision to travel to Dubai for a training camp was for performance reasons. Whilst we were in Dubai, the announcements made on January 4 significantly changed the COVID landscape.
"The reality is that a case could well have occurred had the team remained in Scotland, as other cases have done in Scottish football and across UK sport in the past week.
"Celtic has done everything it can to ensure we have in place the very best procedures and protocols. From the outset of the pandemic, Celtic has worked closely with the Scottish Government and Scottish football and we will continue to do so."
Assistant manager John Kennedy admitted on Saturday that there had been “slip-ups with minor things” during the trip to Dubai and that a photo maybe painted a “bleak picture”.
But he stressed they had addressed the issue and had largely stayed separate from the wider public given they had their own area in the hotel and travelled on their own flight. Kennedy also stated the Scottish Government and football authorities were content with their protocols.
When it was put to him that a positive test would put them in a difficult situation, assistant Kennedy said on Saturday: “Everyone is in the same position. Look at Aston Villa, they didn’t travel anywhere, and they had a number of positive tests. You can’t pin it all purely on us deciding to go to Dubai.
”All around the country is in a very difficult situation. No-one wants to get the virus but it’s difficult to control. We are trying to limit the risk as much as we possibly can in our bubble but we have had a couple of positive tests when guys have been on international duty.”
It's the latest blow amidst what is proving an increasingly difficult campaign for Celtic and manager Neil Lennon, with their hopes of a record 10th successive league title already all but over.
The Lurgan man's future looked under threat back in November when a League Cup exit at the hands of Ross County came amid a run of one win in seven matches.
While the club hierarchy backed Lennon, the 1-0 Old Firm defeat to Rangers last weekend, combined with the Gers' 2-1 win over Aberdeen on Sunday, means that Celtic go into tonight's game 22 points behind their rivals with four games in hand.
“We just have to concentrate on ourselves,” Kennedy said. “We know we have put ourselves in a position which is difficult. We didn’t want to be in this position but it is what it is.
“We know there is not a lot of room for error now. We just have to attack it and do what we can.”
When asked if Celtic were capable of going on a 19-game unbeaten run with two victories against Rangers to win the league, Kennedy said: “It has got to be the mindset. There is nothing else for it.
“We have got to approach it as positively as we possibly can. We know the situation is difficult, we know the challenge, but we will never, never lay down and allow things just to pass.
“We are going to attack it and go with real purpose and drive to try and turn it around and hopefully at the end of the season we can be in a better place and sit down and look at it then.”