Lionel Messi’s absence from Inter Miami’s friendly in Hong Kong on Sunday has been labelled a “deliberate and calculated snub” after he played in Japan three days later.
Messi remained on the bench for Miami during their 4-1 victory over a Hong Kong XI, with coach Tata Martino later explaining it was due to an ongoing injury for his star player.
The Hong Kong government said it was “extremely disappointed” by Messi’s absence and demanded an explanation from event organisers with the situation only escalating further when the 36-year-old did feature against Vissel Kobe in Japan on Wednesday.
Messi returns as Inter Miami closes tour with scoreless draw
Hong Kong lawmaker Kenneth Fok says Messi’s appearance in Tokyo “sprinkled salt” on the wounds of Hong Kong fans, while senior government adviser 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.”
Hong Kong’s culture, sports and tourism bureau also demanded “reasonable explanations” for Messi’s absence from the game before going on to play in Japan.
After the Hong Kong government expressed their disappointment on Sunday, the governmental department later added: “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.”
The bureau added: “Hong Kong citizens have lots of questions.”
Miami were booed off the pitch in Hong Kong (Peter Parks / AFP)
The Global Times media organisation, part of China’s state-controlled media, wrote in an op-ed: “The match in Hong Kong became the only one in Messi’s six pre-season friendly matches on this trip where he was absent. The situation…has magnified these doubts and suspicions on the integrity of Inter Miami and Messi himself.”
The op-ed added that Messi’s absence from playing in Hong Kong was an “incident has far exceeded the realm of sports.”
After missing the game in Hong Kong, Messi took to Chinese media platform Weibo to offer an explanation for his lack of participation.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I always want to play,” Messi wrote in Chinese and Spanish, “especially in these games where we travel so far and people are excited to see our games.”
Miami coach Martino added that the decision to play Messi for 30 minutes against Vissel Kobe was only agreed upon after the side’s training session the previous evening.
“After practice on Tuesday in the evening, he (Messi) said he felt good and we agreed he would play 30 minutes,” he said. “We are very content now after the game is over because Messi looked very comfortable.”
Martino had previously said after the match against the Hong Kong XI: “It really was an enormous risk even playing him for a few minutes.”
Miami conclude their pre-season with a friendly match against Messi’s boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys on February 16.
Lionel Messi no-show prompts boos in Hong Kong, but Inter Miami focus on bigger picture
(Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)