Why are Chinese fans angry with Lionel Messi and don’t want him to return to Hong Kong again?

NEW DELHI: The universally adored Argentine superstar Lionel Messi has always stayed away from controversy for most of his glittering career. Until Sunday when Messi, Inter Miami and owner David Beckham was booed mercilessly in Hong Kong when the Argentine World Cup winner did not come off the bench due to an injury in a match against a local side. The anger turned into vitriol when a few days later Messi played 30 minutes in a match in Japan against Vissel Kobe.
Why did Lionel Messi opt to sit out the match in Hong Kong?
According to Inter Miami head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, Messi was deemed unfit to play in Sunday’s match in the Hong Kong friendly. This was the second match Messi missed after he pulled out of playing against Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia which Miami lost 6-0.
What was Messi’s reaction in not playing the Hong Kong friendly?
Lionel Messi’s official Weibo account had already apologized to the Chinese fans after not playing in the Hong Kong match. “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. Hopefully we can come back and play a game in Hong Kong,” the post read.
How has the government reacted to the controversy?
Global Times, China’s state-controlled mouthpiece lashed into Messi and Inter Miami accusing them of meting out a differential treatment towards Hong Kong.
“The match in Hong Kong became the only one in Messi’s six pre-season friendly matches on this trip where he was absent. The situation…has magnified these doubts and suspicions on the integrity of Inter Miami and Messi himself. Some mainland fans travelled 12 hours from Xinjiang to Hong Kong to see Messi with the disappointment of the government and fans “entirely understandable. The impact of this incident has far exceeded the realm of sports,” it wrote.
Sports lawmaker Kenneth Fok said the incident “sprinkled salt wounds” on Hong Kong fans while senior government advisor Regina Ip wrote on X that “Hong Kong people hate Messi, Inter-Miami and the black hand behind them, for the deliberate and calculated snub to Hong Kong.”
“Messi should never be allowed to return to Hong Kong. His lies and hypocrisy are disgusting,” she added.
What was the aftermath of the controversy?
In addition to over 40,000 fans not getting their tickets’ worth with each costing HK$5,000 ($640), Messi’s absence on the pitch led to Tatler Asia, who were the organizers of the event, forfeiting HK$16 million ($2 million) worth of government funding.
According to Time, Tatler’s CEO Michel Lamuniere said that Inter Miami had told them that Messi was fit to play but when it was time for him to, Miami had ignored appeals for Messi to address the fans.
Do the western clubs allegedly treat the Asian market as their biggest cash cow?
With the footballing landscape in Asia having undergone a paradigm shift over the last decade, most western clubs are eyeing the continent just to make a quick buck and nothing else. With the pre-season tour of Inter Miami again reopening the debate, the Asian fans are slowly and steadily starting to see through the veneer. The best example of that will be of the recent match that Miami had against Kobe, with entire blocks of seating at the Japan National Stadium remaining unoccupied and just 28,614 tickets sold for the game.
Did China and Japan’s uneasy relations add fuel to the Messi fire?
With a long history of strained relationships between China and Japan which dates to the second world war, Messi’s decision to play 30 mins in the match in Japan opposed to no-show in Hong Kong has opened up some old wounds.
Even now, government ships from Japan and China have been in loggerheads over the issue of the disputed islands in the East China Sea.
“Smiling in Japan but sulking in China, what can I say? He has picked a side and shown his politics. Don’t come back again,” read one of the most popular comments at Weibo, according to Time.
What’s next for Messi and Inter Miami?
Inter Miami will wrap up their pre-season with a match with Messi’s old club Newell’s Old Boys before beginning the MLS season proper with a clash against Real Salt Lake on February 22.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.