Messi denies political snub was behind Hong Kong no-show

Messi denies political snub was behind Hong Kong no-show

/ 04:29 PM February 20, 2024

Inter Miami's Lionel Messi Hong Kong

Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi leaves after a training for a friendly football match between Hong Kong Team and US Inter Miami CF at the Hong Kong Stadium in Hong Kong, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Louise Delmotte)

Lionel Messi denied his absence from a match in Hong Kong two weeks ago that angered China was a political snub, but was caused by an injury.

The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner is idolized by fans in China but stayed on the bench during Inter Miami’s 4-1 win in a pre-season tour match against a Hong Kong select XI on February 4.


A near 40,000 sellout crowd, who had paid upwards of 1,000 Hong Kong dollars ($125) to see the 36-year-old superstar in action, chanted “Refund!”, gave thumbs-down signs and booed Messi and the team’s co-owner David Beckham after the final whistle.


READ: Anger over Messi’s absence in Hong Kong game spreads

Some nationalist politicians interpreted Messi’s absence as a snub to China after the Argentina great was fit enough to take the field for 30 minutes in a friendly a few days later in Japan.

In a video posted on China’s Weibo social media platform late on Monday, the World Cup-winning captain rejected claims that his no-show was “for political reasons”.

If that had been the case, he said, he “would not have traveled” to Hong Kong in the first place.

“As everyone knows, I always want to play and be in every game,” he said.

READ: Hong Kong sports minister was assured Messi would play

Messi spoke in his video of a “very nice and very close” relationship with China, a country with which he said he had “done a lot of things”.

His reason for not playing was due to injury, he said, specifically “inflammation of an adductor” muscle.


Fans on Weibo reacted quickly to the video, some in support of Messi.

“I believe the player I have always loved would never look at his fans with any kind of prejudice,” wrote one user, adding, “he always values every fan.”

“I still can’t understand how such a supreme footballer, the greatest of all time, can be pilloried online to the extent that he is considered not to love China just for missing a friendly match,” another fan wrote.

Not everyone was appeased.

“Turns out it’s still hard to say sorry after all,” read one Weibo comment.

“Give it a rest,” said another. “Run off to Japan and drink sewage.”

Messi starred last June when Argentina beat Australia in Beijing in a friendly, scoring in the opening minutes in front of an adoring crowd.

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But next month’s Argentina friendlies against Nigeria in Hangzhou and Africa champions Ivory Coast in Beijing were cancelled after Messi failed to play in Hong Kong.

TAGS: Lionel Messi

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