Hong Kong authorities are demanding answers to Lionel Messi's absence from the Inter Miami match
(CNN) — Repeated requests by the Hong Kong government to allow Lionel Messi to play in a sold-out soccer match went unanswered Sunday, a city official said.
Around 40,000 fans, some of whom paid up to $624 for tickets, packed the Hong Kong Stadium hoping to catch a glimpse of the World Cup winner, but Messi returned home dejected as his club missed out on a 4-1 win over Inter Miami, left on the bench. over Hong Kong XI.
The eight-time Ballon d'Or winner featured heavily in pre-match publicity, with many fans demanding refunds due to his lack of playing time. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government, which has provided the tournament organizer with more than $2 million in grants, said it was “extremely disappointed” the star was not playing.
At a press conference on Monday, Hong Kong Culture, Sports and Tourism Secretary Kevin Yeung said the agreement signed between the government and tournament organizer Tatler XFEST requires Messi to play at least 45 minutes, subject to safety and fitness concerns.
The government first contacted the organizer when officials noticed the star was still on the bench at the start of the second half of this Sunday's match, he said.
According to Yung, the organizer had told the government that Messi might not be able to play due to injuries, but confirmed that he would not play 10 minutes before full time.
When it became clear that Messi would not play, officials insisted to the organizer that he spend some time with the fans, Yung said.
“So we immediately asked them to explore other solutions, such as having Messi appear on the field to communicate with the fans or receive the trophy. Unfortunately, this did not work,” Yung said.
Miami coach Gerardo “Tada” Martino said the decision not to field Messi due to injury was made too late.
“We feel a little cheated”
“Messimania” took over Hong Kong with the visit of Inter Miami on Friday as fans invaded the Major League Soccer team's hotel. Meanwhile, the stadium reached capacity during Inter Miami's open practice the night before the match.
On Monday, a small group of fans gathered outside Inter Miami's hotel in Hong Kong, hoping to catch one last glimpse of Messi before the team left for the next stop on their preseason tour in Tokyo.
“We feel a little cheated by the club because we paid, and I think most people pay to see Messi, and it was announced almost exclusively that Messi was going to play,” one fan, Ada Kam, who held a sign, told CNN. It says “refund for corruption”.
In a statement, organizer Tatler
Messi could return to China with Argentina in March for friendlies against Nigeria in Hangzhou and Ivory Coast in Beijing.