Nicola Sturgeon has issued Scotland’s football clubs with a final warning following Celtic defender’s Boli Bolingoli breached Covid-19 protocols by taking an unauthorised trip to Spain.
Scotland’s First Minister said she ‘doesn’t expect’ Celtic or Aberdeen’s Premiership matches this week to go ahead as scheduled.
But she stopped short of cancelling the competition outright just two matches into the campaign.
‘Consider today the yellow card, next time it will be the red card,’ Sturgeon said.
Bolingoli’s breach of the rules came after two Aberdeen players tested positive for coronavirus after they visited a city centre restaurant following their defeat to Rangers last Saturday.
The Dons’ game against St Johnstone was called off at the weekend and their home match against Hamilton Academical, scheduled for Wednesday night, and Saturday’s visit to Celtic will now follow suit.
Celtic’s visit to St Mirren on Wednesday evening has also been postponed.
Sturgeon added: ‘I think my frustration about the Aberdeen Football Club situation was pretty palpable.
‘Every day I am asking members of the public to make huge sacrifices to how they live their lives and the vast majority are doing this and it isn’t easy.
‘We can’t have privileged football players just deciding they are not going to bother. This can’t go on.
‘We have given the football authorities the opportunity to tell us how they’re going to put their house in order.
‘I don’t want the season to be in jeopardy but we have to be very clear this situation is not acceptable.
‘As a minimum, you should not be expecting to see Aberdeen or Celtic play over the course of the coming week.’
The First Minister repeatedly stressed that she didn’t want to impose a widespread suspension of play on a sport that spent almost five months in lockdown, arguing that this would only punish supporters who want to see their team’s play.
But Scotland’s National Clinical Director, Jason Leitch, said that footballers had been given special freedoms and privileges – and needed to prove themselves worthy of these benefits.
Ironically, Leitch spent Monday evening on a conference call with all 12 Scottish Premiership head coaches and their respective club captains, stressing the need for complete adherence to the guidelines.
News of the Bolingoli breach broke during that meeting, sparking a series of crisis summits between the SFA, SPFL and the Scottish Government yesterday.
Both Aberdeen and Celtic expect to be punished by the footballing authorities, who will be going out of their way to prove themselves capable of taking serious action – if it avoids being shut down completely.
It came after Celtic condemned the behaviour of Bolingoli after the defender travelled to Spain on an unsanctioned trip in breach of Covid-19 quarantine rules.
The Belgian defender’s action could bring the Scottish football season to a halt after he came on as a late substitute in Celtic’s 1-1 draw at Kilmarnock on Sunday.
Now the reigning Scottish Premiership champions have apologised for Bolingoli’s actions, saying ‘it is difficult to imagine a more irresponsible action in current circumstances.’
Bolingoli failed to tell Celtic officials he had visited a high-risk country. Anyone arriving back in the UK from Spain has been required to self-isolate for 14 days since July 26.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon was unaware of the player’s movements when he brought Bolingoli off the bench late on at Rugby Park.
In a statement released on Tuesday morning, Celtic expressed regret for the player’s ‘stupidity’.
It read: ‘Celtic Football Club unreservedly condemns and apologises for the behaviour of the player Boli Bolingoli in travelling to Spain without informing the club and in failing to observe quarantine restrictions.
‘It is difficult to imagine a more irresponsible action in current circumstances and we find it beyond explanation. The Club will take immediate action through our own disciplinary procedures.
‘Celtic are in touch with every SPFL club today, and with all relevant authorities, to apologise for the fact that one of our employees has created so much additional difficulty through his actions.
‘All of our playing and backroom staff have been tested twice for Covid-19 since this incident and all, including the player in question, have tested negative.
‘While this comes as a relief to all concerned, it in no way diminishes the seriousness or stupidity of the player’s actions.
‘Since the Covid-19 crisis began, we have had a safe and healthy squad of players, recording not one positive test. As a club, we have worked tirelessly to ensure a sustained, safe environment for all.
‘We have led the way in working with the football authorities and Scottish Government to establish the most rigorous, effective protocols and working practices, which ultimately led to the resumption of football. We could have done no more in this area.
‘It is a matter of the deepest regret to us that the behaviour of one individual has jeopardised that reputation and reflected discredit on football more generally.’
After belatedly learning of the trip, furious Celtic bosses hauled Bolingoli in for a heated meeting at Parkhead on Monday.
On Monday night the defender – who has since tested negative for the virus – said: ‘I have made a huge mistake. I want to apologise to my manager, my team-mates, the supporters, everyone at Celtic and so many others for letting them down so badly.
‘I am guilty of a major error of judgement. I know what I did was wrong and I know that I must now deal with the consequences.’
The club has now launched an internal probe.
Former Celtic striker Chris Sutton said there should be ‘no way back’ for Bolingoli after his ill-advised trip to Spain.
Sutton tweeted: ‘There should be no way back for Bolingoli at Celtic now. If he knowingly went to Spain before the Kilmarnock game and broke quarantine rules he showed he really doesn’t give a s*** about his teammates, the manager and the support… Celtic should get rid immediately.’
His extraordinary behaviour comes after two Aberdeen players became infected with Covid-19 after eight of them visited a city restaurant after the opening day defeat by Rangers.
The players are all now self-isolating and will miss Wednesday’s game with Hamilton – should it get the go-ahead.
Last week, Sturgeon said: ‘They blatantly broke the rules that had been agreed between the SFA, the SPFL, and the Scottish Government, which, to put it mildly, is completely unacceptable.
‘Football has been given the go-ahead on the strict condition that clubs and players abide by the guidance that has been agreed.
‘They put at risk the return of the professional game. To say this incident is deeply regrettable is an understatement.
‘I’m pretty furious about this situation, because it shouldn’t have happened. If that guidance is not going to be adhered to then all bets are off.’
Aberdeen’s match with St Johnstone on Saturday was postponed.