Chinese state media, Hong Kong politicians, and disappointed fans expressed condemnation over Argentine player Lionel Messi’s decision to stay on the bench during a match in Hong Kong, just days after a much-anticipated fixture. Messi’s absence during the Inter Miami match, attributed to an injury by the head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, raised questions about the differential treatment for Hong Kong.
China’s state-controlled Global Times highlighted the disappointment of fans who had traveled long distances, including a 12-hour journey from Xinjiang, to see Messi in action. The publication emphasized that the incident went beyond the realm of sports, magnifying doubts about the integrity of Inter Miami and Messi.
Messi apologized to his Chinese fans on Weibo, expressing regret for not being able to play in Hong Kong due to an injury. He reassured fans that he always wants to play, especially in games that generate excitement among supporters.
The match in Hong Kong drew 40,000 fans, with spectators paying substantial amounts for tickets. In Tokyo, the Japan National Stadium witnessed fewer attendees, prompting criticism and calls for explanations from Hong Kong’s Culture, Sports, and Tourism Bureau.
Sports lawmaker Kenneth Fok described the incident as “sprinkling salt wounds” on Hong Kong fans, while senior government advisor Regina Ip expressed discontent on social media, accusing Messi, Inter Miami, and an alleged “black hand” behind them of a deliberate and calculated snub to Hong Kong.