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Lionel Messi Hong Kong controversy: Government slam Inter Miami star, organiser offers ticket refunds

Inter Miami are back in the United States to conclude their run of pre-season friendlies against Newell’s Old Boys, Lionel Messi’s boyhood club from Rosario, Argentina.

It should be an occasion to remember for Messi but controversy continues to swirl over what the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner did or — more accurately — did not do during Inter’s recent jaunt to Asia.

The 36-year-old has been nursing fitness issues during his club’s money-spinning tour. He came off the bench for the final seven minutes of a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Al Nassr on February 1, a game his old rival Cristiano Ronaldo missed altogether.

Three days later in Hong Kong, Messi did not feature at all against a Hong Kong all-star XI. When he appeared for the last half hour of a 0-0 draw against Japanese champions Vissel Kobe, it meant the Hong Kong match was the only game on Inter Miami’s exhibition schedule that Messi sat out entirely.

MORE: Inter Miami friendly matches for 2024 preseason: Lionel Messi battling injury ahead of MLS season

What did the Hong Kong government say about Lionel Messi?

Messi’s no-show has drawn a response from Hong Kong politicians. It’s not been especially pretty.

Senior government advisor Regina Ip, posting on social media, said: “The people of Hong Kong 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.”

The Hong Kong Culture, Sports and Tourism Office said: “Three days later, Messi was able to play actively and freely in Japan. The government hopes that the organisers and the teams can provide reasonable explanations.”

Politician Kenneth Fok said Messi’s absence left fans with “sprinkled salt wounds” while the Chinese state-controlled Global Times newspaper claimed “the situation has magnified doubts and suspicions on the integrity of Inter Miami and Messi himself”.

(Inter Miami CF Communications)

Why did Lionel Messi not play in Hong Kong?

Inter Miami head coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino said Messi was not fit enough to play in the 4-1 victory due to a hamstring complaint.

Messi himself apologised to fans on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

“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 watch our games,” he wrote.

“Hopefully we can come back and play a game in Hong Kong.”

MORE: Lionel Messi loudly booed by Hong Kong crowd for sitting out Inter Miami match

Lionel Messi Hong Kong fans to get refunds

In an Instagram post on Friday, game event organisers Tatler Asia offered to refund half of the ticket price paid by fans at Hong Kong Stadium, where a post-match speech by Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham was booed.

“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,” the statement said.

Tickets for the game cost up to HK$4,880 ($630/£500).

Tatler referenced the whole episode as a “source of great heartbreak”. It added: “The fact that Messi played in Japan on February 7 feels like another slap in the face.”

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