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Celtic footballer’s quarantine breach may amount to gross misconduct

It is often said that the football industry is unlike any other. The money involved, the rewarding of past failures with new appointments and the self-indulgence of a minority of players.

I am a fan of football and it’s hard for me to recall a more serious error of judgement than that made by an employee of Celtic Football Club. The player in question is the Belgian, Bolo Bolingoli. Following a match on 2 August, Celtic playing staff were given two days off and reminded not to travel outside of the Club’s city, Glasgow.

In this 48 hour period, Bolingoli took it upon himself to make a return flight from Prestwick to Malaga and not tell anyone. He was even photographed by a Celtic fan getting ready to alight the aircraft in Spain. All four UK governments had 14 day quarantine regulations in place for people returning to the home nations from Spain. On 9 August, Bolingoli came on as a substitute for Celtic in a match against Kilmarnock.

A massive own goal for the player and for his Club

The news about the players indiscretion broke the day after the Kilmarnock game. Having returned from Spain he neither quarantined, nor told anybody about the trip. He trained with his teammates and took part in the match.

Bolingoli’s boss, Neil Lennon said he was ‘livid’ and ‘appalled’ by his players actions. The interview with Mr Lennon suggested it was harder to imagine a greater breach of trust and the player’s actions had to be pre-meditated, rather than impulsive, because travel bookings needed to be made.

Scottish football, like football in other countries has gone to great lengths to establish protocols to enable games to restart. The implications of the players actions are numerous:

  • Putting at risk the health of the match officials, players and coaching staff of Celtic, Kilmarnock and their families.
  • A breach of trust between a player under contract and his manager and teammates.
  • A breach of an employer’s policy and a breach of government regulation.
  • The necessary cancellation of subsequent fixtures for both clubs.
  • A backlash on social media from unhappy Celtic supporters.
  • The adverse publicity for the football club brand and its commercial partners based on the action of one person.

Red card and game over for Bolingoli?

Are Celtic within their right to sack their player? It seems inconceivable he will be permitted back into the playing group. Ultimately it is a matter for Scottish law. But the fact is:

  • The player has been fined £480 by the police for failing to self-isolate, a breach of national law and a criminal act. Due process will need to take place, but this could be grounds for termination of contract
    Furthermore, there has been a breach of trust between employer and employee that goes to the heart of the contract and one which appears irretrievable.

It is rare for football clubs to sack playing staff. Commercially it is preferable to either sideline the player or to make arrangements to move him on to another club. It will be interesting to see how this case develops and what Celtic decide to do. Bolingoli has been charged by the Scottish Football Association for breaching disciplinary rules and this hearing is on August 28.


David Seals

David Seals

Partner

Tel: +44 (0) 1306 502218

Office: Dorking

Email: d.seals@downslaw.co.uk