Lionel Messi defends HK absence as China Backlash Continues

Lionel Messi has emphasized the “special” connection he shares with China, despite facing criticism from Chinese fans over his absence from a game in Hong Kong.

In a video posted on the social media platform Weibo, Messi explained that an injury had forced him to miss the match on February 4th. Despite this claim, he participated in a game in Japan shortly after the Hong Kong friendly, sparking frustration among Chinese fans who hold Messi in high regard.

The backlash against the 36-year-old Argentine football icon has persisted for weeks, leading to significant consequences. Chinese officials have canceled two Argentina friendlies scheduled for March, one against Nigeria in Hangzhou and another against Ivory Coast in Beijing. Football authorities in Beijing stated, “Beijing does not, at this moment, intend to host the match in which Lionel Messi was supposed to participate.” Similarly, the Hangzhou sports bureau cited well-known reasons for calling off the match it was set to host.

Messi, citing injury, stayed on the bench for the entire duration of the match in Hong Kong. The state media outlet Global Times has accused both the footballer and his club, Inter Miami, of harboring “political motives” and attempting to “embarrass” the Chinese Special Administrative Region.

However, in the Weibo video shared on Monday, the Argentinean footballer refuted allegations that he abstained from playing for “political reasons,” dismissing such claims as “completely untrue.” Emphasizing his “special affection” for the people of China, Messi stated, “If that had been the case, I wouldn’t have even traveled to Japan or visited China as many times as I have.”

He reiterated his earlier assertion that his inability to participate in the Hong Kong match was due to an inflamed adductor muscle. Messi stated, “I tried to train and made an effort for all those who had come to watch training. I did all I could. I also went along to the football clinic with all the kids. But I really couldn’t play. I felt discomfort, and there was a risk it would worsen.”

Messi’s Weibo post, serving as his second attempt to clarify his absence from the match, has garnered approximately 55,000 comments. Among them, some expressed skepticism, with one comment noting, “Sorry is indeed a very difficult word to say.”

However, there were still expressions of support. A comment stated, “I know you love China, and I will always support you for what you have done for us.”

Getty Images Messi enraged Chinese fans when he failed to take to the field during a friendly in Hong Kong

Approximately 38,000 fans at Hong Kong Stadium expressed their dissatisfaction by booing and demanding refunds after Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham addressed the crowd at the conclusion of the match. These spectators had paid up to HK$4,880 (£494; $624) with the expectation of watching Lionel Messi play. In response to the discontent, match organizers Tatler Asia have assured a 50% refund to the disappointed attendees.

The Chief Executive of the territory, John Lee, expressed extreme disappointment over Messi’s absence and called for an explanation from the match organizers. Other officials, including Hong Kong lawmaker Regina Ip, reacted with fury, asserting that “Hong Kong people hate Messi, Inter-Miami, and the black hand behind them” for what they perceived as a “deliberate and calculated snub.”

Contrastingly, just last year, Messi received a warm reception in Beijing when he played for Argentina in a friendly against Australia, drawing a crowd of 68,000 fans who paid up to $680 for the opportunity to witness him in action. Additionally, Messi holds endorsement deals with prominent Chinese brands such as Huawei, Chery, Tencent, Mengniu, Chishui River Wine, and J&T Express.


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