Angry football fans in Hong Kong have been offered a 50% refund on match tickets after Lionel Messi failed to take to the field in a game scheduled to showcase his talents.
Messi stayed on the bench for the duration of Inter Miami’s exhibition match against a local team on Saturday due to a groin injury.
As it became clear the Argentina international would not be playing, fans in the ground booed and held up signs with messages including ‘No Messi, refund please’. Many also later used social media to air their grievances.
Messi, 36, is considered to be one of the greatest players of all time – perhaps even the best ever. In 2022, he won the World Cup with Argentina. He has also won the Ballon d’Or, an annual award for that year’s best player, eight times.
In an Instagram post on Friday, the Hong Kong game’s organiser Tatler Asia apologised to people who were left disappointed and shared its sadness at the event becoming “the source of great heartbreak”.
It reiterated it had pleaded with Inter Miami to tell spectators Messi would not be playing and said it was upset by “the seeming lack of respect shown to the crowd”.
Referencing the fact Messi played for 30 minutes in a match in Tokyo just days later, the organiser of the Hong Kong match added: “The fact that Messi […] played in Japan on 7 February feels like another slap in the face.”
“We will not escape our responsibility as organisers and that is why Tatler Asia will offer all those who purchased match-day tickets from the official channels a 50% refund,” it added.
Tickets for the match cost up to 4,880 Hong Kong dollars (£500) each.
The Hong Kong government has welcomed the refund but said it still has questions and hopes Inter Miami can provide an explanation to the public.
Messi tried to address the disappointment in a post on the Chinese social media platform Weibo as anger erupted on Sunday.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I always want to play – especially in these games where we travel so far and people are excited to see our games,” he wrote in Chinese and Spanish.
“Hopefully we can come back and play a game in Hong Kong.”
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Speaking after the match in Japan, Inter Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said: “After practice on Tuesday evening, he (Messi) said he felt good and we agreed he would play 30 minutes.
“We are very content now after the game is over because Messi looked very comfortable.”