Messi affair in Hong Kong: no-show Argentine football legend leaves fans furious, sparks calls for refund

“Regarding Messi not playing the match today, the government, as well as all football fans, are extremely disappointed about the organiser’s arrangement. The organiser owes all football fans an explanation,” the government said in a statement issued as frustrated fans took to social media to vent their anger.

Fans show their displeasure and demand a refund after Lionel Messi failed to play on Sunday. Photo: AP

“The Major Sports Events Committee will follow up with the organiser according to the terms of the agreement, including the possibility of deducting sponsorship funds because Messi failed to play.”

The government noted that the event organised by Tatler Asia had been given “M mark” status by the advisory committee, designating it as a major sporting event that would have official backing. Organisers received HK$15 million (US$1.92 million) in funds for the match and a HK$1 million venue subsidy.

In an another statement issued on Sunday night, the government said the way the organiser and Inter Miami handled the match had failed to meet expectations of fans, including the tourists who travelled to the city for the event.

One source told the Post that Messi’s team had been difficult to deal with, starting with their appearance on the airport tarmac after they landed in Hong Kong to a red-carpet welcome. They raised eyebrows by walking off the stage despite being asked to remain for official welcoming speeches.

The source said the government had been told in the morning that Messi would play as team captain and was not informed of any change of plan even when officials discovered his name was not on the list of players before kick-off.

According to a second source, the contract for the game stipulated that Messi play for a minimum of 45 minutes unless ill or injured.

Chief Executive John Lee attends the prize presentation. Photo: Sam Tsang

Officials were only told Messi was injured, the first source said, and when he was still a no-show when the game ended, they requested he at least receive the trophy and offer a few words of explanation.

According to the source, Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham promised to explain and apologise when addressing fans at the stadium, but failed to do so.

In a statement released late on Sunday, Tatler Asia said it did not know that neither Messi nor Luis Suarez would play, and said they shared the “extreme disappointment” fans were feeling.

“We, alongside all football fans who attended that match, had been eagerly anticipating Messi’s and Suarez’s participation and share in the disappointment felt by everyone watching,” the organisers said.

“Despite some news reports, Tatler did not have any information about the non-participation of Messi or Suarez prior to kick off. Messi and Suarez were deemed unfit to play by their team’s medical department, to everyone’s, including ours, disappointment.”

Tatler Asia spent weeks promoting the game using Messi as the selling point, and responded angrily last month when the Post suggested he might not appear.

In an email, a spokeswoman wrote: “All Inter Miami marquee players will play in the upcoming fixture. This includes Lionel Messi.”

Fans bemoan wasted chance to see Messi play at high-profile Hong Kong game

But just Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba did so, and then for just 28 minutes apiece.

Luis Suarez did at least warm-up near one section of fans, but never seemed in any danger of making it onto the pitch.

The most expensive tickets went for HK$4,880, but those who left the ground loudly demanding refunds are likely to be left disappointed, given the terms and conditions of the ticket sale.

Some fans spent thousands on tickets and travel for the weekend sporting event. Photo: Sam Tsang

In addition, Tatler Asia had made it plain they reserved “the right to make alterations, additions, withdrawals or substitutes to the event line-up, as well as modify, cancel, terminate or temporarily suspend the event”.

Nigerian Antony Osazee, who works as an auditor in Hong Kong, said he paid more than HK$3,600 to see Messi conduct a training session on Saturday and play the friendly match on Sunday.

“I came for the training and just saw him doing stretches,” he said. “Messi isn’t a supermodel. People don’t pay just to watch him sit.”

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Lawyer Eric Chan Pak-ho, who runs his own firm CPH Legal, pointed out that it was common sense that injury might prevent a player from appearing, and said Tatler Asia was unlikely to be vulnerable to prosecution, unless they had known Messi was not going to play but continued to market the game giving the impression he would.

While Tatler Asia’s reputation might be damaged, its behaviour “would fall short of any legal liabilities”.

Lawmaker and Roundtable convenor Michael Tien Puk-sun said the incident had significantly damaged the city’s reputation, especially considering the number of visitors from South Asia and mainland China who came specifically to watch the match.

He suggested the organiser should refund half of the ticket price to fans.

Tien also said Tatler Asia as a reputable business should take the initiative to pay back a portion of the financial subsidies received from the government.

Additional reporting by Danny Mok


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