HEARTS insist they are ‘incensed’ after being ordered to cease training with immediate effect by Scottish football’s Joint Response Group (JRG).
The Tynecastle outfit were left stunned and infuriated after being informed that their pre-season preparations were to be halted until August 24, bringing them in line with the new return date for all other clubs below the Premiership.
Hearts sources confirmed that they were only informed of the decision around 20 MINUTES prior to it being made public at 5 p.m. and had no say in the consultation process.
The orders came following discussions between the JRG, which includes Scottish FA and SPFL representation, Scottish Government Ministers and health advisers – and is hot on the heels of several high-profile breaches of Covid-19 guidelines.
Eight Aberdeen players attended a city-centre pub, resulting in two testing positive for the virus and a further six required to self-isolate. Celtic star Boli Bolingoli then made the mind-boggling decision to jet out to Spain and did not quarantine upon his return.
And Hearts believe they are being ‘disproportionately disadvantaged’, underlining the financial and logistical hurdles they have overcome to begin training, meeting the same exacting safety standards as Premiership sides.
HEARTS STATEMENT IN FULL
Heart of Midlothian Football Club can confirm that we were advised at 4.30pm [Thursday] afternoon of the decision of the Joint Response Group to delay the return to training for clubs out-with the SPFL Premiership and that as a consequence, Hearts were required to cease training with immediate effect.
We requested a delay to the publication of that decision, while we discussed the implications. While the situation was being discussed internally, the decision was published, some 20 minutes or so later.
While recognising the hugely complex decision-making processes involved in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, the Club has nonetheless objected to this decision in the strongest terms.
To be clear, we had previously requested to return to training on 3rd August to fit in with our training plans and needs. Along with a Betfred Cup campaign and Championship season to prepare for, we also have a Scottish Cup semi-final to participate in. We confirmed that we were able to comply with all the required protocols, which we have done. All other Championship clubs were given the same opportunity to return to training. They chose not to return at that time, as was their right.
Having received authority to return to training, we built our plans around the agreed date. Our players and support staff were taken off furlough; contracts were signed with new staff and new players on the clear understanding that we would be in full training. We signed contracts with service providers, including Oriam and our Testing company. Testing has once again been carried out this week, with costs incurred, in anticipation of continued training. Suffice to say that at a time when every football club in the land is managing its costs as tightly as possible, we have incurred significant “unnecessary” costs.
We have done nothing wrong and yet, once again, we are being disproportionately disadvantaged by a decision which has been described as “the fairest”. We should not forget that this situation has come about, not because of Covid-19, but because of behavioural issues, not by our employees but by those of other clubs. This delay reflects a lack of confidence that certain clubs will be able to comply and meet the required protocols. How can it possibly be “fair” that we should be penalised?
When questioned in what way this was “the fairest way forward”, we were advised that some other clubs now wanted to return to training and it was deemed that by preventing them from doing so, without halting our training, would give us an unfair advantage.
Our fans are naturally incensed by this action, especially given what has transpired over recent months. For the avoidance of doubt, everyone at the Club is equally incensed. We are currently considering our options.
The plot thickened when Professor Jason Leitch, the National Clinic Director of the Scottish Government, claimed on BBC Sportsound that Holyrood had no issue with Hearts continuing to train, placing the call on the shoulders of the footballing authorities.
Leitch stated: “These are matters for the SPFL. We didn’t tell them what to do.
“Hearts were already training because of the court case and the Premiership and the possibility they were up. My understanding was that they wouldn’t have to stop training.”
Hearts are exploring the possibility of requesting special dispensation to continue training.
Glasgow City, for example, are being allowed to prepare for their UEFA Women’s Champions League tie against Wolfsburg on August 21, subject to an ‘audit to verify compliance’.