The Hong Kong government are demanding answers after Lionel Messi was left out for an exhibition match in front of a sellout crowd.
Supporters flocked in to watch Inter Miami and their global superstar, with David Beckham also present. Tickets had cost the locals 1,000 Hong Kong dollars (£101) but they were unable to see the main attraction which saw the atmosphere turn sour.
Hong Kong’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau admitted in a statement that, like the fans, it was very disappointed that Messi could not play in Hong Kong due to injury, only to see him appear as Inter Miami took on Vissel Kobe in Japan shortly after.
They said: “However three days later, Messi was able to play actively and freely in Japan. The government hopes the organisers and teams can provide reasonable explanations.”
Inter Miami are in the midst of a global tour that has already seen them head to Saudi Arabia to play Al-Nassr, Cristiano Ronaldo’s outfit. They are also due to take on the club that Messi began his career at, Newell’s Old Boys.
China’s state-controlled Global Times claimed that Messi’s absence posed many questions regarding the differential treatment faced by Hong Kong. They said: “The match in Hong Kong became the only one in Messi’s six pre-season friendly matches on this trip where he was absent. The situation … has magnified these doubts and suspicions on the integrity of Inter Miami and Messi himself.”
Messi responded to the pre-season disaster and said he hopes he and the team can return to Hong Kong again to play in the future. “Unfortunately in football things can happen in any game, that we may have an injury. It happened to me,” said the Argentine.
“I couldn’t play in the Hong Kong match, and it was a shame because I always wanted to participate, I wanted to be there and even more so when it came to these matches. When we travelled so far and people were so excited to see our matches. I hope we can return and we play another game and I can play as I do whenever I can. But the truth is that it is a game that I was not able to participate.”
Some fans who live in the mainland had travelled 12 hours from Xinjiang to Hong Kong so that they could get a glimpse of Messi and the Global Times wrote that the disappointment of the government and fans “entirely understandable. The impact of this incident has far exceeded the realm of sports.”