IAN Maxwell, the SFA chief executive, last night denied the decision to close down the lower leagues for three weeks had been influenced by Holyrood criticism of Celtic’s controversial trip to Dubai.

The SFA yesterday announced they were suspending all football below Championship level until January 31 following a meeting with Mairi Gougeon, the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing.

The move came after the Parkhead club announced that 13 of their players and three members of their staff – including manager Neil Lennon – had been forced to self-isolate as a result of centre half Christopher Jullien returning a positive Covid-19 test result on Sunday.

However, Maxwell insisted it was a direct result of rising coronavirus infection rates across the country and had been discussed by the SFA and SPFL Joint Response Group last week.

“This is a decision we’ve taken to help stop the spread of the virus,” he said. “It’s not linked to Celtic. This decision was talked about throughout most of last week with the JRG, and in-depth on Friday. That was before we knew of the Celtic situation.

“They are two absolutely separate things and they need to be kept like that. We have made this decision which largely separates full-time players from part-time players, because there is more risk with part-time players.

“We’ve reached a day today where we’ve seen the most hospitalisations for Covid that we’ve ever seen. So for us not to take some sort of action to try and help that, alleviate that and reduce those numbers wouldn’t be a wise decision for the Scottish FA to take.

“I can guarantee this decision is not linked to Celtic. It was talked about long before anything else that happened at the weekend.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week urged the SFA to examine potential breaches of strict Covid-19 regulations on Celtic’s trip to Dubai for a warm-weather training camp.

Maxwell confirmed the matter was currently being looked at by the governing body’s disciplinary department.

“Everything we are made aware of goes through that process,” he said. “It would be foolish to say that we have not been made aware of issues potentially with Celtic being abroad. That will go through the process and it’s obviously not appropriate to comment on an ongoing issue. We will just see what happens from there.”