Hong Kong officials demand answers for Lionel Messi no-show

Lionel Messi warms the bench during a friendly between a Hong Kong XI and Inter Miami on February 4, 2024.

Lionel Messi warms the bench during a friendly between a Hong Kong XI and Inter Miami on February 4, 2024. Peter Parks/AFP/Getty ImagesHong KongCNN — 

The Hong Kong government’s repeated requests for Lionel Messi to play in a sell-out soccer match went unanswered Sunday, a city official said, as cheers turned to jeers for the Argentine soccer legend.

Some 40,000 fans – some who paid up to $624 for tickets – had packed the Hong Kong Stadium in the hope of seeing the World Cup winner but went home deflated after Messi stayed on the bench, missing his club team Inter Miami’s 4-1 victory over a Hong Kong XI.

The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner featured heavily in pre-match advertising and many fans demanded a refund due to his lack of game time. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government, which provided more than $2 million in grants to the match organizer, also said it was “extremely disappointed” the star did not play.

In a news conference Monday, Hong Kong Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung said the contract signed between the government and match organizer Tatler XFEST required Messi to play for at least 45 minutes, subject to safety and fitness concerns.

Fans make their feelings clear after Lionel Messi's Hong Kong no-show.

Fans make their feelings clear after Lionel Messi’s Hong Kong no-show. Justin Chin/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The government first contacted the organizer at the start of the second half on Sunday when officials noticed the star was still on the bench, he said.

According to Yeung, the organizer had told the government Messi, 36, might not be able to play due to injury – but only confirmed he would not play 10 minutes before full time.

When it became clear Messi would not play, authorities insisted to the organizer that he should at least spend some time with fans, Yeung said.

“We therefore immediately request them to explore other remedies, such as Messi appearing on the field to interact with fans or receiving the trophy. Unfortunately, this did not work out,” Yeung said.

Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino earlier said the decision not to field Messi was made on very late notice due to an injury.

‘We do feel a bit scammed’

“Messi mania” had captured Hong Kong with Inter Miami’s arrival on Friday as fans swarmed the Major League Soccer team’s hotel. Meanwhile, the stadium reached capacity during Inter Miami’s open training session the evening before the match.

On Monday, a small group of fans gathered outside Inter Miami’s hotel in Hong Kong, hoping to catch a final glimpse of Messi before the team departed for the next stop of its pre-season tour in Tokyo.

“We do feel a bit scammed by the club because we paid, and I think most people pay, to see Messi and it was advertised almost exclusively that Messi was going to play,” fan Ada Kam told CNN, holding a placard that read “refund scam”.

In a statement, organizer Tatler XFEST expressed https://gunakanlah.com “extreme disappointment” that Messi and teammate Luis Suárez did not play in Hong Kong and said it “did not have any information about the non-participation” of the players prior to kick-off.

Messi could return to China in March with Argentina for friendly matches against Nigeria in Hangzhou and Ivory Coast in Beijing.

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