Fans in Hong Kong expressed their frustration by booing Inter Miami during a pre-season friendly match when Lionel Messi was absent from play.
The 36-year-old Argentina World Cup winner, recovering from a hamstring injury, remained on the bench as Inter Miami secured a 4-1 victory against a local League XI in front of nearly 40,000 spectators.
Chants of “refund” filled the air, overshadowing a speech by Inter co-owner David Beckham, who faced a chorus of boos.
The Hong Kong government stated that Messi was contracted to play at least 45 minutes. Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong’s secretary for culture, sports, and tourism, revealed that officials were repeatedly assured of Messi’s participation. They were only notified of his abductor injury with just 10 minutes remaining in the match.
“We immediately requested alternatives, such as Messi interacting with fans on the field and receiving the trophy,” Yeung stated. “Unfortunately, as witnessed, this did not materialize.”
The government’s major sports events committee (MSEC) expressed disappointment over Messi’s absence and demanded an explanation from the organizers, Tatler Asia, who received 15 million Hong Kong dollars (£1.5 million) for the event, along with a venue grant of one million Hong Kong dollars.
Tatler Asia, acknowledging the disappointment, announced the withdrawal of its application for the government grant, as Messi did not participate.
A crowd of 38,323 at Hong Kong Stadium, each paying over 1,000 Hong Kong dollars (£101) for a ticket, witnessed Messi’s absence, along with Inter Miami striker Luis Suarez, sidelined due to a knee injury.
During the match, chants of “we want Messi” grew louder, highlighting the disappointment of fans. Beckham’s attempt to express gratitude for the fans’ support was met with jeers at the final whistle.
Tatler Asia clarified that they were unaware of Messi and Suarez’s non-participation before kick-off. Both players were deemed unfit by their team’s medical staff.
Inter manager Gerardo Martino expressed understanding for fans’ disappointment, apologizing for Messi and Suarez’s absence, stating that the decision was made in consultation with the medical team, prioritizing players’ health and minimizing risks.