Global Times: Angry Fans deserve respect and sincere explanation after Messi no-show in Hong Kong friendly

BEIJING, Feb. 6, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Raucous cheers and rapture ended up in boos and calls for refunds at the full-house 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium on Sunday night after Argentine superstar Lionel Messi failed to feature in a friendly game between his Inter Miami and the Hong Kong all-star team. 

Kevin Yeung (Yeung Yun-hung), secretary for the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), said during a media briefing at noon on Monday that it was only confirmed that Messi would not play 10 minutes before the game ended.

The organizer had originally confirmed before the game that Messi would play in the second half. The sponsorship contract stipulated that unless there were safety or health concerns, Messi was required to play for a minimum of 45 minutes. The local government immediately approached organizer Tatler XFEST after it noticed that Messi didn’t take the field as scheduled in the second half, according to Yeung.

Yeung said remedial proposals to ask Messi to talk to fans after the match or receive a prize on behalf of the team were all rejected.

In a statement released soon after the match, the event organizer expressed “extreme disappointment” regarding Messi and fellow Inter Miami player Luis Suárez’s absence from the event and said that it “did not receive any information about their non-participation” prior to kickoff.

“Messi and Suárez were deemed unfit to play by their team’s medical department, to everyone’s, including our, disappointment,” read the statement.

The farce drew a surprising resemblance to Saudi Arabia club Al Nassr’s China trip in January, when Cristiano Ronaldo was forced to pull out of the friendly games against two Chinese teams due to a muscle injury. The games have been postponed indefinitely.

Without having been notified prior to the games, thousands of Chinese fans became victims of the superstars’ haphazard preseason tour after splashing big sums on tickets, and were left empty-handed and frustrated.

The clubs risk ruining their reputation and aggravating players’ injuries if profit is prioritized over other issues during a packed pre-season tour.

The preseason hiatus was meant to be an opportunity for players to rest and reinvigorate for the new season but Al Nassr and Inter Miami’s tours around the world have left its stars overwhelmed. The subpar quality of the friendly games and the disorganized management have turned the players into performers akin to animals in a circus.

The absence of marquee stars Messi or Ronaldo in the friendly games left fans understandably disappointed. While unforeseen circumstances may arise in the world of sports, it’s crucial to recognize that fans invest not only financially but also emotionally in these events. Their dedication and support deserve the utmost respect. 

Ensuring transparency, timely communication, and acknowledging the impact on the fans can go a long way in maintaining the bond between clubs, players and their loyal supporters.

Lured by immense commercial interests, the clubs have embarked on a whirlwind global moneymaking tour at the cost of the players’ intentions and fan sentiment.

In spite of Messi’s no-show in his team’s 4-1 over the Hong Kong team, Inter Miami has amassed a revenue of about $10 million, according to reports.

The HKSAR government shared its disappointment later in a statement, saying it wanted an explanation from the event organizer after Messi failed to appear and that it would look to cut the funding it contributed to the event.

The friendly match had been awarded an “M” Mark status which is granted to major sporting events held in Hong Kong. The designation enables event organizers to access specific assistance measures provided by the local government. Hong Kong had announced the allocation of a total grant of HK$16 million ($2 million) to support the event.

The organizer stated that they have withdrawn their previous application for funding from the HKSAR government.

Authorities will take follow-up actions with the organizer according to the terms and conditions, which include reducing the amount of funding as a result of Messi not playing the match, according to the government statement.

Meanwhile, Asian Electronic Sports Federation President Kenneth Fok (Fok Kai-kong) demanded an apology from the organizer. 

In the past few months, the organizer has consistently used the allure of soccer legend Messi as a promotional strategy, generating extensive publicity and fervent anticipation from residents and fans alike. Both the organizer and Inter Miami owe an apology and an explanation to the entire Hong Kong community, according to Fok.

Despite Messi’s absence on the field, the team failed to engage with the fans in alternative ways. This lack of interaction and acknowledgment toward the fans and the residents of Hong Kong is disrespectful and an attitude that is unacceptable, said Fok.

“I feel like I was deceived,” said a fan who had arrived in Hong Kong from Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region after a 12-hour trip. 

Chinese fans do not want to have their emotions toyed with, nor do they want to witness legendary figures being forced to perform for the sake of profit in the twilight of their careers.

The incident has sounded a fresh alarm for showing respect to fans, who are the lifeblood of the sport. Clear communication and respect for their emotions are non-negotiable aspects of maintaining a genuine connection. The resilience and loyalty of fans contribute significantly to the enduring spirit of the sport, and their commitment deserves acknowledgment and appreciation.

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