Hong Kong football fans who attended Sunday’s Inter Miami-Hong Kong XI exhibition match on Sunday were disappointed when the event’s star player Lionel Messi did not play because he was injured. The outcry over the match has not died down, with the city’s Consumer Council revealing that it received 245 complaints totalling HK$1,608,662. The highest complaint registered with the council amounted to HK$22,690.
While Messi participated in the training session the day before the friendly game, he did not make an appearance on the pitch on match day. In a statement, Tatler Asia, the organisers of the event, maintained they did not know that Messi and his teammate Luis Suárez would not make it to the pitch, and that the players were “deemed unfit to play by their team’s medical department”.
Consumer Council officials state that even though Tatler Asia did not guarantee that specific players would play in the match, they also failed to explain that team members would sit out the game in case they were injured. “Most of the promotional materials are mainly based on photos of individual players, and the organiser’s promotional publications have always stated that the team will be led by individual players. Consumers have reasonable expectations for these players to participate in exhibition games,” according to a statement from the council.
The government has also expressed disappointment about the event, with Kevin Yeung, the Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, revealing that Messi was supposed to play for at least 45 minutes — “subject to fitness and safety considerations” — and that the organisers assured officials that he would join his team in the second half of the match.
“We reiterated our request for Messi to play in the match about 10 minutes before the match ended. The organiser [then] confirmed that Messi could not play. We requested them to explore other remedies, such as Messi appearing on the field to interact with his fans, and receiving the trophy. Unfortunately, as you all see, these did not work out,” Yueng told the media on Monday.
Following these developments, Tatler Asia withdrew its application for HK$16 million in funds from the government for the event. However, Tatler Asia CEO Michel Lamuniere explained that Messi and Suárez were listed as substitutes in the official team line-up, and were therefore fit to play. However, the organisers were informed at half-time that Messi would not play, and they urged Inter Miami to ask Messi to address fans at the stadium, which the eight-time Ballon D’Or winner did not do.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee addressed the “saga” at a press conference on Tuesday, saying, “We will keep urging the organisers to explain to the public in detail what actually happened [and] what were the details of the agreement between them and the team. The organisers have the responsibility to explain and to answer to the demands of those who have bought tickets.” Lee added that the government is working on creating backup plans for the future so that the public gets all the information they need before they attend big-ticket events.
There is now much anticipation over whether Messi will play at Inter Miami’s next pre-season match in Japan, which is slated for February 7, during which the team will face off against Vissel Kobe at the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo.
Header image credits: @tatlerhongkong via Instagram, @WeAreMessi via X