Celtic have been accused of not setting “a particularly great example” by flying to Dubai on a training camp by Deputy First Minister John Swinney.
The Glasgow club travelled to the United Arab Emirates just hours after their Old Firm defeat on Saturday.
Scotland is in the midst of heavy Covid-19 restrictions with movement outside the country allowed only for essential reasons.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Mr Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland.
Travellers returning from the UAE are exempt from self-isolation protocols in Scotland.
However, with mainland Scotland in Tier 4 – the highest level of restrictions – since Boxing Day, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon ordering members of the public to stay at home throughout January on Monday, Mr Swinney says there is a duty to “demonstrate leadership”.
“I don’t think it’s a particularly great example to set,” he said.
“When we are asking members of the public to take on very, very significant restrictions on the way in which they live their lives, I think we have all got to demonstrate leadership on this particular question.”
When asked on BBC Radio Scotland’s Drivetime if the defending Scottish champions would be allowed back into the country, the Deputy First Minister added: “They will be allowed back in but they will have to follow all rules in the process and you know, frankly I don’t think it’s a very good idea to be doing that at this stage.”
However, when approached for comment by BBC Scotland, Celtic defended their trip, insisting it had been approved by the Scottish government
“The training camp was arranged a number of months ago and approved by all relevant footballing authorities and the Scottish Government through the Joint Response Group on 12th November 2020,” said a club spokesman.”The team travelled prior to any new lockdown being in place, to a location exempt from travel restrictions. The camp, the same one as we have undertaken for a number of years has been fully risk assessed.”If the club had not received Scottish Government approval then we would not have travelled.”
In November, Celtic requested their fixture with Hibernian, originally scheduled for this weekend, be moved to Monday, 11 January to accommodate the trip, with the SPFL granting the change.
But Hibernian chief executive Leeann Dempster claimed the game was pushed back without the Easter Road club’s knowledge.
Neil Lennon’s side, who have won the previous nine league titles, trail rivals Rangers by 19 points in the Scottish Premiership, having played three games fewer.