Scottish football training ban is 'absolutely not about Hearts' - SFA chief

Ian Maxwell expressed sympathy for Tynecastle club after pre-season preparations halted

SFA Chief Executive Ian Maxwell says he understands the frustrations of Hearts. Picture: SNS

SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell says he "completely understands" the anger of Hearts, but backs the decision by the Joint Response Group to cancel all training for non-Premiership clubs in Scottish football.

The head of the game's governing body appeared on BBC Radio Scotland's Sportsound programme to explain Thursday's decision, which "incensed" the Gorgie Road club.

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The ban was put in place as part of tougher measures after the SFA and SPFL were told to put their house in order following a couple of high-profile breaches involving Celtic defender Boli Bolingoli and eight first-team members at Aberdeen.

Hearts had already started their pre-season preparations with players returning to training at the start of August.

Robbie Neilson's men have now had to halt proceedings with the ban going on until August 24 at the earliest.

Asked by Richard Gordon whether he understood the frustrations of the Tynecastle side - who were relegated from the top flight despite having eight games remaining in the 2019/20 campaign earlier this summer - Maxwell was forthright with his answer.

He said: "I absolutely understand. Looking at everything that has happened to Hearts over the summer this is going to look like another slap in the face.

"I tried to make it clear to Ann that it is absolutely not about Hearts. It is also unfair on the hundreds of grassroots clubs that would've had training organised for next week. A lot of people are affected.

"We had to put in that decision to put a pause in place. We had other Championship clubs wanting to come back to training on Monday. So we had to decide whether we were just going to have one club training, or is it just a blanket one-week suspension.

"I completely understand and I completely get where Hearts are coming from. I know they'll be disappointed. Hopefully Hearts and everyone else in Scottish football understands why we've done it."

Maxwell was then asked whether it would have been possible to give an exemption to Hearts, seeing as they had already been training with no hint of protocol breaches that have plagued Scottish football over the last week.

He answered: "When you start giving out exemptions and you start not treating everyone equally, that's what leads to problems.

"We took the difficult decision but the right decision to cancel it across the board, so there wouldn't be a perceived unfairness of one club training for a competition while the others wouldn't be able to."

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