According to Peter Guo and Jennifer Jett
In Hong Kong, fans of Lionel Messi were deeply upset when the famous Argentine soccer star did not play in a much-anticipated exhibition match they had paid a lot of money to see.
The game, which sold out with 40,000 attendees, featured a match between Hong Kong’s top players and Inter Miami, the Major League Soccer team Messi recently joined. Many fans wore jerseys representing Argentina’s 2022 World Cup team or Inter Miami, signaling their support for Messi.
After the match, which Inter Miami won 4-1, videos showed the audience chanting for a refund and expressing their disappointment while David Beckham, a co-owner of Inter Miami, spoke to the crowd.
The Hong Kong government expressed its deep disappointment over Messi’s absence, considering pulling back the 16 million Hong Kong dollars (around $2 million) it had sponsored for the event. Following this, Tatler Asia, a partner in organizing the event, decided to cancel the request for government funding.
Jameson Gong, a fan who paid 3,000 Hong Kong dollars ($385) for his son’s ticket, shared his frustration with NBC News, calling for accountability and describing the incident as embarrassing.
Messi was prominently advertised as part of the event’s promotion, with ticket prices ranging from 880 to 4,880 Hong Kong dollars ($112 to $624). The tickets sold out quickly, suggesting fans were eager to see Messi play.
Gong, who protested the mishandling of the event, pointed out that the situation could have been better managed, suggesting Messi could have at least made an appearance or signed autographs if unable to play.
This incident has marred Hong Kong’s attempts to boost its image as a global financial center and host for major events, especially after recent challenges including political unrest and strict Covid-19 measures.
Inter Miami’s head coach, Gerardo Martino, spoke to the media on Sunday after the game, expressing understanding for the fans’ disappointment. However, he emphasized that he did not want to take the risk of aggravating the injuries of Lionel Messi, aged 36, and his teammate Luis Suárez from Uruguay, aged 37, both of whom were sidelined for the match.
Inter Miami is in the middle of a worldwide series of exhibition matches before the start of their regular season on February 21. The team landed in Hong Kong on Friday from Saudi Arabia and is scheduled to play next in Japan on Wednesday.
Many fans, including those from mainland China and across Asia, came specifically to see Messi, who last played in Hong Kong in 2014.
Zhang Yiyi, a 22-year-old admissions counselor from Guangzhou, China, shared her disappointment, saying her long-held dream to watch Messi play live was “shattered.”
“I’m feeling mixed emotions,” she said. “I really wanted to witness his incredible skill up close, something I’ve dreamt about for 14 years as a fan.”
Yin Chao, a 36-year-old from Shanghai working in advertising and marketing, spent 2,980 Hong Kong dollars ($380) on a ticket and took time off work just for the chance to see Messi in action. He pointed out that opportunities to see veteran players like Messi and Suárez, who are nearing the end of their careers and battling injuries, are becoming rare.
He also mentioned his frustration with the post-match speeches by the event hosts and David Beckham, feeling that their responses did not adequately address the audience’s disappointment, especially as they faced boos from the crowd.
Source : nbcnews.com