Saturday, May 18, 2024

China says Messi’s absence in Hong Kong match beyond ‘realm of sports’ as fury builds

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Some mainland fans travelled 12 hours from Xinjiang to Hong Kong to see Messi, the Global Times wrote, with the disappointment of the government and fans “entirely understandable. The impact of this incident has far exceeded the realm of sports”.

Messi apologised to his Chinese fans on Weibo, a Chinese platform similar to X, just ahead of the Japan game on Wednesday, saying it was a real shame he was not able to play in Hong Kong due to an injury.

“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,” he wrote in Chinese and Spanish.

The match in Hong Kong drew 40,000 fans, with spectators paying up to nearly HK$5,000 (US$640) per ticket. In Tokyo, entire blocks of seating at the Japan National Stadium remained unoccupied, with just 28,614 tickets sold.

Hong Kong’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau said in a statement that, like the fans, it was very disappointed that Messi could not play in Hong Kong due to injury.

“However three days later, Messi was able to play actively and freely in Japan … The government hopes the organisers and teams can provide reasonable explanations.”

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 calculate snub to Hong Kong”.

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