The organiser of Sunday’s ill-fated exhibition match between Inter Miami and Hong Kong said at a press conference last night that it would withdraw its application for HK$16 million in government funding.
The pledge came after soccer icon Lionel Messi – much-hyped as the match’s main drawcard – failed to appear on the field in Hong Kong, disappointing fans who had forked out up to HK$4,880 (US$623) for tickets. Some had travelled from as far as South Korea and Australia to see the game.
Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung said Tatler Asia’s call to forgo funding did not go far enough. “The organiser should deal with consumers’ demands,” he said, in what appeared to be a suggestion that it would have to address widespread calls for ticket refunds.
Tatler Asia, a luxury magazine publisher with little or no track record in organising major international sporting fixtures, has maintained it “had every expectation” Messi would play in the lead up to the game.
This is despite the fact that the Argentine star was coping with a groin injury sustained at the end of last year and was in obvious discomfort when he briefly appeared on the pitch at a game in Saudi Arabia, three days before the Hong Kong match.
Ronny Tong, a senior member of the Executive Council, Hong Kong’s de facto cabinet, said more oversight of sporting events was needed. “When a promoter signs a contract, the government should ensure the organisers indicate what injuries the players have,” he told the South China Morning Post. “When Messi failed to deliver, they should have made him hold a press conference to explain his situation.”
Meanwhile, top legislator Michael Tien told China Daily that “If Tatler does not refund the spectators, the Hong Kong government should permanently prohibit renting venues to this company as a warning to possible copycats.”
CEO Michel Lamunière said Tatler Asia wasn’t informed of the Argentinian star’s injury until half time, and “subsequently spent the second half urging the Inter Miami CF leadership to instruct Messi to address the fans, to no avail.”
Lamunière said his company regretted the “disappointing ending” to the highly anticipated match.