Nicola Sturgeon warns professional sport “all bets are off” amid Covid epidemic

Celtic’s winter training camp in Dubai questioned by PM

Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon warns that “all bets are off” if those involved in Scottish professional sport do not respect the additional privileges.

But hundreds of untested football players and coaches will travel across the country this weekend for Scottish Cup second round matches.

Ms Sturgeon said football organizations need to listen to players’ concerns.

Several football clubs outside of the senior game have suspended training and the North Caledonian Football Association has suspended training and games until next month.

Asked during her daily briefing to respond to a call from Lowland League club Dalbeattie Star to suspend the season until the pandemic is brought under control, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish government was continuing to discuss the matter. “We have to listen” if the players or the staff do not feel safe, she added.

The prime minister said rules allowing the continuation of professional sport, and not just football, will be reviewed if current mitigation rules, including separate travel and social distancing, are not followed.

Earlier this week Ms Sturgeon suggested Celtic had questions about her winter training vacation in Dubai, although the Premiership champions insisted she had been approved by the Scottish government.

National Clinical Director Jason Leitch commented that the safety concerns expressed by Dalbeattie and others need to be raised “at the top of the chain” and “which may end up” in the Scottish FA and FBCL.

He said the government was in constant communication with football authorities to find out which clubs were included in the “professional football” exemption.

Professor Leitch said if there was a “common feeling” about the safety of any part of the league, then it was “up to them to take it into account”.

When asked if it was okay for hundreds of untested football players to travel to Scottish Cup games this weekend, he stressed that some footballers “could have the virus and should behave as if they had done it “.

Professor Leitch added that while professional sport remains free from travel restrictions, clubs need to have “strong mitigation measures” in place – for example, having as low a level of support staff as possible and respect social distancing and the use of face coverings.

Dalbeattie Star, whose manager, Ritchie Maxwell, works in the NHS, said in a statement: “We are classified as elite professional players, but no provision is available for Covid testing at our level.

“We are however questioning the professional status as we are a part-time club and all the players have other careers in football.

“Like all clubs in the league, we would love to be able to finish this season on time, but the safety of our committee, the management team, the players and of course the people of our local community is more of a concern than the football.”

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Sara R. Cicero