The Scottish soccer season was thrown into disarray on Tuesday after upcoming games involving Celtic and Aberdeen were postponed at the request of the country’s government following breaches of coronavirus rules by players.
Soccer authorities and government officials held a meeting after Celtic defender Boli Bolingoli took a secret trip to Spain, failed to self-isolate on his return, and played in a 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock in the league on Sunday.
“It is difficult to imagine a more irresponsible action in current circumstances,” Celtic, the Scottish champion, said in a statement strongly condemning the actions of Bolingoli, “and we find it beyond explanation.”
A game between Aberdeen and St. Johnstone on Saturday was postponed a day earlier after two Aberdeen players tested positive for COVID-19 and a further six were instructed to self-isolate following a night out in a bar.
That led to Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warning that soccer players’ privileges to play during the ongoing safety restrictions in Scotland would be at risk if a similar situation arose.
In light of the Bolingoli case, the government requested the following games be postponed: Aberdeen vs. Hamilton and St. Mirren vs. Celtic on Wednesday; and Aberdeen vs. Celtic on Saturday.
That was agreed to by Scottish soccer’s Coronavirus Joint Response Group.
“Let me put this as clearly as I can in language that the football world will understand: Consider today to be the yellow card,” Sturgeon said at the government’s daily news conference. “The next time it will be the red card, because you will leave us with absolutely no choice.”
Sturgeon said she was asking the general public in Scotland to hugely restrict how they live their lives.
“And people rightly will look to me,” she added, “and say, ‘Well, if footballers get away with doing whatever they want, why do I have to keep doing these things?’”
The new Scottish season started only on Aug. 1 after the 2019-20 campaign was called off early, in May, because there was no immediate prospect of play restarting amid the coronavirus pandemic.
There are few spare slots in what is already a congested calendar in Scotland for the new season.
It is an embarrassing episode for the Scottish game, with official Rod Petrie saying he was “astounded to learn of the recklessness demonstrated” by Bolingoli.
“That this comes on the back of eight Aberdeen players showing similar disregard for public health is disrespectful not just to every football teammate, fellow player and colleague but also to every fan in this country,” Petrie said. “It is also hugely damaging to the image, reputation and sustainability of the game.”
All 12 managers and captains of clubs in the top-flight Scottish Premiership held talks with government officials on Monday and were reminded of their responsibilities over protocols particular to football and also the general public.
Celtic said it has taken its response to COVID-19 “extremely seriously” and has recorded no positive tests so far.
“We could have done no more in this area,” Celtic said. “It is a matter of the deepest regret to us that the behavior of one individual has jeopardized that reputation and reflected discredit on football more generally.”
Spain was restored to the Scottish government’s list of countries from which returning travellers must quarantine themselves for 14 days following a decision on July 25, which came into effect from midnight on July 26.
Celtic said all of its playing and backroom staff have been tested twice for COVID-19 since Bolingoli’s return and that everyone has 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,” the club said.
Celtic said it would be getting in touch with every Scottish club and soccer authorities to apologize for Bolingoli’s actions, for which he has apologized.
“I have made a huge mistake,” he said. “I want to apologize to my manager, my teammates, 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 Aberdeen-Hamilton match was already in jeopardy following a spike of cases in Aberdeen in recent days.
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80