Messi sits out friendly for Hong Kong; the government can cut aid funding

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HONG KONG, CHINA – FEBRUARY 04: Fans react after not seeing Inter Miami’s Argentinian striker Lionel Messi play during the friendly match between Team Hong Kong and Inter Miami CF at a stadium Hong Kong on February 4, 2024 in Hong Kong, China.

China News Service | China News Service | Getty Images

The Hong Kong government said it may cut funding for a friendly match after soccer legend Lionel Messi took the field on Sunday.

US Premier League soccer team Inter Miami defeated a select Hong Kong XI 4-1 in a friendly match, but did so without the support of the Argentine superstar who remained on the bench for 90 minutes in total.

The Miami Herald reported that Messi had an MRI last week before a friendly in Saudi Arabia. Although it was expected that he would be left off the table, he appeared in the 83rd minute when the Florida team was already down 0-6.

The South China Morning Post called Sunday’s match the “biggest let down ever,” reporting that fans were booing and demanding their money back at the final whistle.

Inter Miami did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The friendly match was awarded Mark “M” status which is awarded to major sporting events held in the city. The designation allows organizers to tap into selected support measures from the city government. Hong Kong said it made a matching donation of 15 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.9 million) to the event and a venue donation of HK$1 million.

David Beckham's Inter Miami to play Hong Kong team in February

The city government issued a statement on Sunday expressing “deep disappointment” that Messi did not play and that the organizer did not quickly provide a detailed explanation.

“Many Hong Kong fans looked forward to the game with enthusiasm, and many tourists came to Hong Kong specifically for the game. The Government, as well as football fans, are extremely disappointed that Messi could not play in the friendly match, or explain to the fans in person if requested,” the statement said, saying that “the way the organizer and Inter Miami CF handled the situation could not meet the expectations of the fans.”

Event organizer Tatler Asia featured Messi and teammate Luis Suárez on promotional material for the match. Suárez also did not play during the game​​​​ The organizer expressed “deep disappointment” in a statement.

“Contrary to some press reports, Tatler had no information about the non-participation of Messi or Suárez prior to kick-off. he said in an Instagram post.

The Hong Kong government said it would take steps to hold the organizer accountable according to the terms of the contract, including possible funding cuts.

Ticket prices for the match cost between HK$880 and HK$4,880, according to a CNBC survey of Klook, the event’s ticket agent. SCMP said some fans spent “thousands” on travel and reselling tickets.

Inter Miami is scheduled to play a friendly against Japanese J-League side Vissel Kobe in Tokyo on February 7, with adult ticket prices ranging from 10,000 yen ($67.39) to 3 million yen ($20,214.45).

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