Furious fans chanted “refund” and booed after Sunday’s match between Inter Miami and an invitational Hong Kong team, due to global superstar Lionel Messi’s surprise absence from the pitch. The Argentine soccer icon had been the main drawcard for the sold out game at the Hong Kong Stadium.
The debacle, reported by multiple media outlets, prompted Hong Kong’s government to express its “disappointment” in the match’s organiser, society magazine publisher Tatler Asia. “The organiser owes all football fans an explanation,” it said.
Hong Kong’s official sports funding committee had given Tatler Asia more than HK$15 million (US$1.92 million) for the event, as well as an additional HK$1 million venue subsidy.
It said it would now reduce that funding due to Messi’s no-show – for which there was little forewarning.
Later reporting revealed the 36-year-old World Cup winner had pulled a hamstring and was on the bench during the match, along with fellow star Luis Suarez – who had injured his knee.
Tatler Asia has issued a statement saying it “did not have any information about the non-participation of Messi or Suarez prior to kick off.” It said “Messi and Suarez were deemed unfit to play by their team’s medical department, to everyone’s, including our, disappointment.”
Inter Miami, which is co-owned by David Beckham, ended up beating the home side 4-1.
The disappointing match came less than two weeks after Cristiano Ronaldo failed to play two scheduled matches in Shenzhen. The Portuguese player’s club, Al Nassr, called off the games due to the 38-year-old’s reported fitness issue.