The organiser of Inter Miami’s ill-fated match in Hong Kong, in which star player Lionel Messi failed to appear, said it would offer refunds of 50%, after the Hong Kong government as well as football fans harshly criticised the event. The refunds will cost Tatler Asia, a magazine and lifestyle brand, $56m HKD (£5.7m).
Messi’s failure to play in the much-hyped friendly match on Sunday, because of a groin injury, sparked outrage in Hong Kong, with fans booing the 36-year-old player for not coming on to the pitch. The controversy intensified when he took part in a match in Tokyo on Wednesday.
Messi said in a Weibo post on Wednesday that the incident was “regrettable” and that he hoped to return to Hong Kong. “Friends who know me will know that I want to give my best in every game,” he wrote.
The anger soon spread beyond the pitch and into mainland China with state media and Hong Kong legislators suggesting that the debacle was a politically motivated snub.
Regina Ip, the convenor of Hong Kong’s executive council, wrote on X: “Hong Kong people hate Messi, Inter-Miami, and the black hand behind them, for the deliberate and calculated snub to Hong Kong.” She said that he should “never be allowed to return to Hong Kong”.
After Messi played in Tokyo on Wednesday, an editorial in the Chinese state media tabloid the Global Times said that the injury explanation was “unconvincing” and that “the impact of this incident has gone far beyond the realm of sports.”
Tatler Asia said in a statement: “We apologise to all those who were disappointed by the football match between the Hong Kong Team and Inter Miami CF … but we are also heartbroken. We put our blood and sweat into bringing a world-class football match to Hong Kong and we were let down along with all of you.” The team, which is co-owned by David Beckham, is due to return to China in March.
Activists had criticised Inter Miami for participating in the match in the first place, because of concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in Hong Kong. Benedict Rogers, the chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, said: “The watching world should not view ticket refunds from Tatler Asia as a win, but keep their eyes and pressure on David Beckham for allowing Inter Miami FC to play in Hong Kong in the first place”.
Tatler Asia’s decision came after the consumer council reportedly received 1,178 complaints linked to the match. Tang Ka-piu, a legislator, had threatened legal action against the lifestyle brand if it failed to compensate ticket-holders. Tickets for the match had cost up to $4,880 HKD (£494).
The refunds means that Tatler Asia will lose $43m HKD on the event, rather than taking in the expected profit of $13m HKD. The brand has withdrawn an application to the government for a $16m HKD grant to fund the match. The application had been approved but the money not yet paid out.
Inter Miami have been approached for comment.