"This is covered": Celtic Dubai trip email chain with Scottish Government revealed

By Euan Davidson

January 29, 2021

The now-infamous Celtic Dubai trip in early January was officially sanctioned by the Scottish Government in November.

The BBC have revealed, via a Freedom of Information request, the series of emails between the club and the Government. Originally, a trip was scheduled for Turkey, and the SFA and Celtic sought assurances from Scotland’s governors in regards to the legality of any potential training excursion.

An unnamed Government official said:

“I am pleased to say this is covered.

“Domestic and elite sportspersons can attend elite training overseas in a non-exempt country, and be exempt on return to Scotland.

“This is on the basis that you will be continuing activities as an elite sportsperson operating under the relevant resumption of performance sport guidelines on return to Scotland.

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“All will need written evidence from the governing body confirming that they are an elite sportsperson.”

This could potentially put the Scottish Government in a bad light. While they had legitimate reasons to sanction the trip, as Celtic had for requesting it, it’s still a bad look. Photographs emerged of Celtic players and staff drinking together by a pool. That led to Nicola Sturgeon speaking out on January 11:

“I really hope Celtic reflect seriously on this.

“You should be asking yourself whether going to a training camp, and what you do at that training camp, is necessary.”

Neil Lennon at Glasgow Airport ahead of the Celtic Dubai trip / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Has Neil Lennon been proven right over Dubai trip?

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: there was a lot preventing Celtic from making the Dubai trip. It led to ridiculous consequences, with 16 players and staff forced to self-isolate after returning home.

Subsequently, but not entirely related, the SPFL announced leagues from the Championship down would be suspended. Many fingers were pointed at Celtic for their part in that happening, although really, the club had nothing to do with it.

Neil Lennon, in his explosive press conference on the 18th January, blasted the “hypocrisy” shown by commentators and politicians in the wake of the scandal.

In quotes attributed to the BBC, Lennon said:

“I’m not convinced they’re a public health issue. [It] seems political in my opinion.

“There seems to be some sort of agenda being driven here. I am not getting into a fight with the government but I will just leave it out there.

“We did not abuse any privilege, we did the right things. We were absolutely totally professional… had a little drink in the afternoon on a day off, completely allowed, no law breaking – yet we come back to this barrage of absolute hypocrisy.”

John Swinney, Deputy First Minister, called Lennon’s defence of the trip “appalling” [Daily Record].

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon criticised Celtic over Dubai / (Photo by Jane Barlow-Pool/Getty Images)

Scottish Government own goal over Dubai?

When the Scottish Government sanctioned the trip, the Covid-19 situation was very different. Families readied themselves to celebrate Christmas together, and lockdown rules were eased. Following a period of relative progress, a new strain of the virus was found in southern England.

This meant that the Scottish Government had to make difficult choices. A full lockdown from December is still in place currently. It was in place when Celtic decided to travel abroad for training.

The consequences of that have been obvious. It did Celtic absolutely no favours, however much the club extolled the virtues of the warm-weather training. However, the Government attacking Celtic now looks a bit hasty in retrospect.

Sure, the pictures by the pool were damning. But by all means, they weren’t images of illegality. Morally dubious? Of course, but not illegal.

The BBC’s reporting here will put pressure on the Scottish Government. However wrong the trip was, it was their own policy to allow it to happen. Criticising it in retrospect reflects badly upon our political leaders, even though they were expected to condemn Celtic’s actions.

It’s a complicated and controversial story, and we’re sure this isn’t the end of it. In truth, nobody has come out of this situation looking good.