The Hong Kong government says it wants an explanation from the event organiser after Lionel Messi did not feature for Inter Miami during a friendly match in the city against a Hong Kong XI.
The government added that is was “extremely disappointed” that Messi did not play and said it will look to reduce the funding it contributed towards the event, which was called ‘Tatler XFEST Hong Kong’.
Messi was listed on Miami’s teamsheet and announced as one of the substitutes but the 40,000 fans at Hong Kong Stadium, many of whom chanted his name during Sunday’s 4-1 win for Miami, were left disappointed and called for a refund as he remained an unused substitute.
Miami coach Tata Martino said after the game he “understood the disappointment of the fans” and explained after the match that Messi’s absence was due to injury.
Having booed during the closing stages when it became apparent Messi would not feature, many supporters at the stadium then booed Miami co-owner David Beckham when he tried to address the crowd, and then again when the MLS side received their trophy.
Lionel Messi no-show prompts boos in Hong Kong, but Inter Miami focus on bigger picture
“The event has been awarded ‘M’ Mark status, as well as a matching grant of 15 million (£1.5m, $1.9m) and a grant for venue of 1 million by The Major Sports Events Committee (MSEC),” a Hong Kong government spokesperson said.
“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 MSEC will take follow-up actions with the organiser according to the terms and conditions, which includes reducing the amount of funding as a result of Messi not playing the match.”
Messi has been dealing with the adductor issue during Miami’s pre-season tour, which Miami have been monitoring. Martino said in his pre-game press conference that he hoped “Leo (Messi) can play as many minutes as possible”, with all players to be assessed.
“We understand the disappointment of the fans that filled the stadium today about the absence of Leo and Luis Suarez,” Martino said after the match.
“This decision was made together with the medical staff. We ran a lot of risk of aggravating their injuries and that’s why they couldn’t be in the game. We understand the disappointment that people have.
“We apologise, but I hope you can understand that, if we had a chance to get them to play for a while, we would have done it. But we were taking serious risks and that is why, together with the medical staff, we made this decision.”
There was confusion ahead of Miami’s previous pre-season game when Messi was initially not named among the Miami substitutes for their match against Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr, before that was revised and the Argentinian was eventually used as a second-half substitute. That match was already tarred in the eyes of some by Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence for Al Nassr due to injury, which was confirmed the day before.
Miami’s tour of Asia continues on Wednesday when they face Vissel Kobe in Japan.
Inter Miami’s preseason provides reality check to global aspirations
(Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)