Jason Leitch 'understands' Hearts anger - but insists it was a SPFL decision
Scotland’s National Clinical Director Jason Leitch admits he understands the frustration of Hearts and their supporters after the club's pre-season preparations were abruptly halted on Thursday evening.
This came after a decision from the Joint Response Group that no training outside of the Scottish Premiership would be permitted in the country until August 24th at the earliest after a pair of high-profile breaches of Covid-19 protocol put the football season in doubt.
Though the Scottish Championship is not due to start until the middle of October, Robbie Neilson's side also have a Scottish Cup semi-final with Hibs on the horizon and brought the players back from the elongated summer break in order to prepare. These plans will now be put on hold.
The club released a statement on Thursday evening where they said they were "incensed" with a decision that "disproportionately disadvantaged" the Tynecastle side.
Leitch, appearing on Off the Ball, admitted the Scottish Government had put pressure on the SFA and SPFL to get their house in order, but insisted the final decision lay with the football authorities.
He said: "I completely understand why Hearts fans and the club feel there is a sense of injustice there, but that is a matter for the SPFL.
"We, the government, should not decide how a sector gets its house in order. The individual decision-making is up to them.
"We told them that we wanted more enforcement and more education. So we gave them the categories of what they had to do, and they came up with the actions for what they wanted to do.
"They have decided that a pause is necessarily to ensure that the protocols are being met at every club.
"It was absolutely an SPFL decision. We're willing to take the blame - well, maybe blame is the wrong word. We, the Scottish Government, told the SPFL to get their house in order."
Football was brought fully to the front of national news earlier this week when it was revealed Celtic defender Boli Bolingoli had not informed his club of a trip to Spain and subsequently failed to go into a 14-day quarantine. This story broke just four days after two Aberdeen players tested positive for Covid-19 following a group outing involving eight first-team members at a busy city-centre pub.
As a result, the Scottish Government informed the football authorities that it wanted Celtic and Aberdeen's matches to be postponed in the interests of public safety, and for stronger measures to be put in place.
Leitch said: "We met with the SPFL and SFA at the beginning of the week to let them know we had lost some confidence in the football fraternity to follow the rules. They were charged with going away and finding a plan to restore that confidence.
"The SFA and SPFL were to come up with a package of measures that would reassure us that they were taking this very seriously. And you've seen that play out over the course of this week."
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