Sports, Football

Messi Hong Kong no-show sparks wave of outrage in China

Published : 09 Feb 2024 08:51 PM

Lionel Messi's no-show at a match in Hong Kong has triggered a surge of online outrage in the city and in mainland China, with the football superstar accused of seeking to embarrass Beijing --

or even engaging in a sinister foreign plot. The Argentine ace and his team Inter Miami sparked fury in Hong Kong from fans on Sunday when he did not play in a friendly, citing injury.

Enthusiasts who had splashed upwards of 4,800 Hong Kong dollars ($500) to see Messi chanted "Refund!", gave thumbs-down signs and drowned out the team's co-owner David Beckham with jeers as he tried to thank the crowd.

Just days later, however, he played 30 minutes of a friendly match in Japan -- causing outrage and accusations that he had singled out China.

The outcry led influential nationalist tabloid Global Times to suggest that sinister foreign forces had conspired to hurt the city's reputation.

"One theory is that (Messi's) actions have political motives, as Hong Kong intends to boost [the] economy through the event and external forces deliberately wanted to embarrass Hong Kong through this incident," it said. "Judging from the development of the situation, the possibility of this speculation cannot be ruled out."

The Hong Kong government has demanded an explanation from the match's organisers, who had sought public funding for the event, and said that they had been repeatedly assured Messi would play.

The Argentine player has said it was "bad luck" that he couldn't play and that he hopes to return to the city.

But top Hong Kong government advisor Regina Ip has fumed that Messi should "never be allowed to return". "Hong Kong people hate Messi, Inter-Miami, and the black hand behind them, for the deliberate and calculated snub to Hong Kong," Ip said on social media platform X, deploying a phrase commonly used by the city's officials to allege sinister foreign interference.

"His lies and hypocrisy are disgusting," she said.