INTER MIAMI
Lionel Messi (centro) del Inter Miami reacciona durante la definición por penales contra Vissel Kobe en un partido amistoso, el miércoles 7 de febrero de 2024, en Tokio. (AP Foto/Eugene Hoshiko)
soccer

Anger over Messi's absence in Hong Kong game spreads: Argentina friendly in mainland China canceled

23 Comments
By KANIS LEUNG

An Argentina soccer friendly in China next month was canceled on Friday in more fallout from Lionel Messi failing to play in a club exhibition match in Hong Kong.

World Cup champion Argentina, captained by Messi, last month scheduled a tour of China during the international break from March 18-26. Games were lined up against Nigeria in Hangzhou and Ivory Coast in Beijing. Both opponents are coincidentally meeting in the Africa Cup of Nations final this weekend.

But Messi, on tour with his Inter Miami club, outraged fans in Hong Kong when he didn't play against a local selection last Sunday and remained on the bench. Messi said he had a groin injury. But his excuse didn't wash in Hong Kong after he played for 30 minutes on Wednesday in Tokyo against Vissel Kobe.

On Friday, the sports bureau in Hangzhou canceled the Argentina-Nigeria friendly.

“Because of the reasons known to all, we've learned from supervising authorities that the conditions are immature for the match to go forward. Now it’s been decided that the match will be canceled,” the Hangzhou Sports Bureau announced on its official social media account.

An Argentina Football Association official told the Association Press it was aware the match was suspended and was looking for another venue to play Nigeria. The official spoke on condition of anonymity saying, “It’s a sensitive matter.”

Ivory Coast's friendly with Argentina in Beijing was going ahead as planned, Ivory Coast team spokesperson Anne-Marie N’Guessan told the AP on Friday.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong organizers of the club friendly with Inter Miami said they will offer a 50% refund following days of backlash against Messi from angry fans and the city government.

Many social media users in mainland China expressed their disappointment over Messi’s no-show, with China’s state-run newspaper, the Global Times, publishing an editorial that said the impact of the controversy surrounding the soccer superstar “has far exceeded the realm of sports.”

In an Instagram post on Friday, local organizer Tatler Asia apologized to those who were disappointed by Messi's absence and said it was upset by “the seeming lack of respect shown to the crowd.”

It reiterated it pleaded with Inter Miami management to urge Messi to explain to the spectators after it learned Messi, who was required to play for 45 minutes unless injured under their contract, would not be playing.

“He didn’t. The fact that Messi ... played in Japan on February 7th feels like another slap in the face,” it said.

The organizers said they were in talks with the city government on how to resolve the issue and details of the refund arrangement would be announced by mid-March.

“We will not escape our responsibility as organizers and that is why Tatler Asia will offer all those who purchased match-day tickets from the official channels a 50% refund,” it said.

Tickets for the game cost up to 4,880 Hong Kong dollars ($624) each. In its statement, Tatler Asia said it would refund 56 million Hong Kong dollars ($7.2 million) in total, resulting in a loss of 43 million Hong Kong dollars ($5.5 million). Before the refund, its net income stood at 13 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.7 million), the organizer said.

Tatler Asia on Monday already said it would withdraw an application for funding from the city government for staging the match.

In response to the announcement, the Hong Kong government welcomed the arrangement in a statement, calling it as a responsible move. But it said Hong Kong society still has many questions over the incident, especially after seeing Messi play in Japan, and hoped Inter Miami can provide a reasonable explanation to the public.

Inter Miami has not immediately responded to the AP's request for comment.

After the PR disaster erupted on Sunday, Messi addressed the widespread disappointment by explaining why he did not play in a news conference in Tokyo.

He also said it was regrettable he could not play in Hong Kong on Chinese social media platform Weibo. He said in the post that he hoped to return to Hong Kong to play for his fans and go to mainland China to share the joy of football.

But his appearance in the Tokyo game on Wednesday intensified the criticism against his absence beyond Hong Kong, where the government sought to use the Sunday game to boost the city's image as a hub for mega events.

On Wednesday, the Global Times said in the editorial that the explanations from Messi and Inter Miami were not convincing and pointed to some speculations about the moves.

“One theory is that their actions have political motives, as Hong Kong intends to boost economy through the event and external forces deliberately wanted to embarrass Hong Kong through this incident,” it said. “Judging from the development of the situation, the possibility of this speculation cannot be ruled out.”

Pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong also weighed in. Regina Ip, a leading member of the Executive Council, Hong Kong’s Cabinet, wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “Messi should never be allowed to return to Hong Kong. His lies and hypocrisy are disgusting.”

The match in Japan wrapped up Inter Miami’s global promotional tour. Inter has won only one of its six games in Central and North America, Saudi Arabia and Asia. The tour wraps up on Feb. 16 in Florida against Newell’s Old Boys, Messi’s boyhood club from Rosario, Argentina. Many expect him to finish his career there.

AP writers Debora Rey in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Ciarán Fahey in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, contributed.

© Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.


23 Comments
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I am not even surprise at this point. This kind of pettiness has been repeatedly done countless times in the past whenever they felt they weren't given the proper respect. They know how to use money to make a point.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

An Argentina soccer friendly in China next month was canceled on Friday in more fallout from Lionel Messi failing to play in a club exhibition match in Hong Kong.

Waaah

Pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong also weighed in. Regina Ip, a leading member of the Executive Council, Hong Kong’s Cabinet, wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “Messi should never be allowed to return to Hong Kong. His lies and hypocrisy are disgusting.”

Oh no- banned from a dystopic totalitarian Chinese democratic graveyard.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Anyone who pays big bucks to watch ONE player - in a friendly for God's sake - is not a real football fan. Just a celebrity watcher.

Now to suggest that the whole thing was some type of "conspiracy against Chinese" is laughable.

But, happy to hear Hong Kongers wasted their money. Couldn't happen to a nicer crowd.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Argentina should just come here and play Japan instead. higher quality opposition for them, no ridiculous paper-thin egos of the CCP to placate, win-win.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Anyone who pays big bucks to watch ONE player - in a friendly for God's sake - is not a real football fan. Just a celebrity watcher

That’s fine. I knew a few casual fans in Japan who went to a game just to see Iniesta play. Other casual fans choose to support the more successful sides around the world - say City or Liverpool in England, Celtic or Rangers in Scotland, Real Madrid or Barca or in Japan they’d choose maybe Urawa Reds.

Makes sense. They probably wouldn’t choose to follow Stockport County or pay to watch a yard dog centre-half weave his magic.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

conditions are immature for the match to go forward. 

A Messi situation.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

> *“*Messi should never be allowed to return to Hong Kong. His lies and hypocrisy are disgusting.”

This rubbish is from a leading member of the HK government. Just shows their level of paranoia and stupidity.

That’s fine. I knew a few casual fans in Japan who went to a game just to see Iniesta play. 

Good for them getting to see him once more! But I bet they wouldn't have spat the dummy and demanded refunds if the great Iniesta had been rested by Kobe from the game to manage his body. Players in their late 30s, no matter how legendary, simply can't play every single game anymore.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Anyone who pays big bucks to watch ONE player is not a real football fan. Just a celebrity watcher.

Yes … but perhaps it is similar to fan paying big bucks to fly to the U.S. to see Ohtani play.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Yes … but perhaps it is similar to fan paying big bucks to fly to the U.S. to see Ohtani play.

Agreed. Seems a bit silly to focus on just one player in a team sport. There's always a chance they might not play, too.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Yes … but perhaps it is similar to fan paying big bucks to fly to the U.S. to see Ohtani play

I have no idea about baseball but I heard he’s very good. I heard there are many bandwagon jumpers with very little knowledge of the game calling him the GOAT. All very silly.

I see your point but you might get lucky.

I was at a footy game where a young Paul Gascoigne tore my side to pieces - on a different level. A pleasure to watch. I still remember it clearly now.

Still, it’s an outside chance.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Well, Messi was the big sales point in this tournament :) . I ensure you they wouldn't have had half the sales if he would announce he would be missing. That being said, he has the right to declare he's injured (probably he really is) and miss all the games!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Good! Nobody should go to China for any reason!

5 ( +6 / -1 )

It’s all about celeb culture and dough, as shallow as a worms grave.

I don’t think men’s teams should wear pink kits.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Football as entertainment and not sport.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Good move for Messi if he and the team won't be hurt financially.

Careless of the organizer

0 ( +1 / -1 )

But whatever, still not a good look, might hurt his image with fans he does care about, if there were

0 ( +1 / -1 )

That being said, he has the right to declare he's injured (probably he really is) and miss all the games!

I agree. He was renowned at Barca for wanting to play every minute of every game, and made Rijkaard and Pep very much aware of that.

That said, he could have come on for the last 10 minutes and just jogged around a bit, maybe spent an hour going around the ground for a few pics and autographs.

I remember watching a game of rounders in Tokyo where Dice-K was playing for the Boston Yankeesocks or someone. He was injured, didn't play and didn't even do any signings or pictures. Just sat mooching in the bench corner all game like Jimmy White's brother whilst the other Boston players were going around giving the fans some love.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Typical China - offended by absolutely everything, even when there's nothing to be offended about.

Of course the reason why Messi didn't play in Hong Kong was injury. He has a ton of sponsors in China - do people honestly think he would've boycotted the game for political reasons when there are $$$$$ at stake?

And recovering a few days later to play in another game is something that absolutely happens in soccer.

Still, though - rabid nationalists take it as a huge sleight on their totalitarian paradise. I'm surprised they didn't arrest him for "hurting the feelings of a billion Chinese people."

2 ( +2 / -0 )

You have to laugh at the spilled entitled.

Not used to not having their own way.

Only good thing was Beckham being booed.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Good thing there were no violence

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Of course the Chinese government would do that ...

It's probably also related to the new Argentian president's decision to put out of the BRICS expansion.

I can imagine Xi has been thinking about 100 ways to get back at Argentina for that.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Another petty day in China. The only surprise is how petty they can be.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Doing anything less in ghastly Hong Kong would have been inhumane. But will Argentina be able to stand up to China?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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