Celtic among only a quarter of Scottish clubs to resume training this week
Scottish Premiership sides can return to training on Thursday but only a quarter of the division will actually do so this week
By Charles Paterson
Last Updated: 08/06/20 7:52pm
Scottish Premiership clubs poised to resume training this week have been advised they do not need to test their players and staff for coronavirus until at least next week.
The advice comes in a letter sent to clubs by the Scottish FA, as clubs prepare to return in the coming days.
In the letter, the Scottish FA say that "whilst clubs are training in line with Scottish Government Phase 1 restrictions - which we all MUST do until at least June 18 - there is no requirement for a testing regime to be implemented".
The letter also stresses the importance of adhering to strict Scottish government guidelines on social distancing, with the country currently in Phase 1 of the route map out of lockdown. On May 29, the Scottish Government agreed with the Scottish FA and SPFL that Premiership clubs could receive an exemption to return to training under Phase 1 of the route map, provided they maintained social distancing standards.
The letter says "all involved should be under no illusions that that breaches of the agreed parameters will lead to the Scottish Government removing our exemption".
Under Phase 1, training is non-contact, with a maximum of two players in each quarter of a pitch training together, while remaining socially distanced from one another.
On Monday Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was "optimistic" the country could move to Phase 2 of the lockdown path next week. Scotland has recorded two consecutive days without a death linked to Covid-19. The next date when procedures will be reviewed is June 18.
Celtic and Ross County players will return to training on Thursday, the first day after the ban on professional football in Scotland is lifted, with both clubs having purchased their own testing machines.
Roy MacGregor, the chairman of Ross County, says it was a necessary outlay to ensure the team will be properly prepared for the new season. He is confident all clubs will be ready for competitive action on August 1.
"For 30 players and staff, it's going to cost us approximately £3,000 a week - so over a year £150,000, which is a lot of money," he said. "But there is no alternative.
"There are 12 clubs in the Premiership, and if one fails, we all fail. If one individual goes down and there's a Covid-19 case, the whole club needs to isolate for 14 days.
"I think clubs have great ingenuity; some may share a machine between a number of clubs. The Scottish FA, I believe, have a couple, so some could do that, or there are third parties who can come and do it for you, which is more expensive than owning your own machine.
"I think we will all get there, but it may take a week or two. We want as much time as we can to prepare the players - they've been out for 11 weeks now, and a pre-season is normally six weeks. Our doctors and physios are concerned they might be slightly more injury prone and there'll be a slower pickup after being off that long.
"We were very anxious to get back as quickly as possible as that's why we went and bought our own machine."
Rangers players are expected to return this weekend, but the other nine Premiership clubs are not due to resume training until Monday June 15 at the earliest. The issue of costs around testing for coronavirus, as well as sourcing machines capable of carrying out the tests, mean some Premiership clubs are yet to finalise their training plans for pre-season.
A number of Premiership clubs in Scotland's central belt are planning to split costs by sharing a machine based at a regional hub, but until the machines can be physically accessed, players cannot be tested.
Motherwell, Dundee Utd and Aberdeen are among those set to resume training from Monday, June 15, but some clubs may not return until later in the month, with the new Premiership season scheduled to start on August 1.
Last week, the Scottish FA lifted the suspension on football imposed on March 13, which currently runs until June 10. Any club wishing to resume training must follow the protocol outlined by the SFA and SPF's Joint Performance Group, produced in line with the Scottish government's health guidelines.
Ross County's machine will also be available for use within the local community. The cost of a Covid-19 testing machine is around £35,000, and some clubs based in Scotland's central belt are planning to share a machine based at a regional hub.
Aberdeen are considering acquiring a machine which could be based at the Cormack Park training ground, with Derek McInnes' squad poised to return on June 15.
With social distancing rules likely to be in place for the foreseeable future, there is no prospect of seeing supporters in stadia for months, and Scottish clubs face a struggle to operate without massive losses.
Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack last week admitted his club face a £9m black-hole as a result of the effects of Covid-19.
Ross County's MacGregor, who is also chairman of the Global Energy Group, also admits clubs may need to suffer for some time yet, but feels the dropping rates of infection in Scotland are a positive trend.
"It is a challenge, but it is for every business. My own company had that in the last few months, trying to put 3,000 people back to work with social distancing, and we met that challenge," he said
"We are very fortunate to have our own academy at Ross County - we have something like 10 or 11 changing rooms, so we can use the whole facility to ensure social distancing. The only bit of the stadium that will be used is the medical room, and we need to make sure that it is cleaned regularly.
"This is the start of a journey, and how fast the journey goes depends on the health of our nation. It was great that yesterday (Sunday) was the first day in Scotland where we didn't have a death, so that's really positive. We're not being complacent, but we're trying to be proactive."