Lionel Messi's absence from Inter Miami's friendly in Hong Kong on Sunday was described as a “deliberate and calculated omission” after he played in Japan three days later.
Messi remained on the bench for Miami during their 4-1 win over the Hong Kong club, and coach Tata Martino later explained that this was due to the ongoing injury of his star player.
The Hong Kong government said it was “extremely disappointed” by Messi's absence and demanded an explanation from the event organisers, with the situation escalating further when the 36-year-old took on Vissel Kobe in Japan on Wednesday.
Messi returns as Inter Miami ends its tour with a goalless 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 “the people of Hong Kong hate Messi, Inter Miami and the black hand behind them, because… A deliberate and calculated disdain for Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Culture, Sports and Tourism Office also demanded “reasonable explanations” for Messi's absence from the match before going to play in Japan.
After the Hong Kong government expressed its disappointment on Sunday, the government administration later added: “But after three days, Messi was able to play actively and freely in Japan… The government hopes that the organizers and teams can provide reasonable explanations.”
“Hong Kong citizens have many questions,” the office added.
The Global Times media organization, part of China's state-controlled media, wrote in an editorial: “The match in Hong Kong became the only one of the six friendlies that Messi played during the pre-season on this trip in which he was absent. The situation amplifies these doubts and doubts about the integrity of Inter Miami and Messi himself.
The editorial added that Messi's absence from playing in Hong Kong was “an incident that went far beyond the world of sports”.
After missing the match in Hong Kong, Messi resorted to the Chinese media platform Weibo to provide an explanation for his non-participation.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I always want to play, especially in these matches where we travel far and people are excited to see our matches,” Messi wrote in Chinese and Spanish.
Miami coach Martino added that the decision to play Messi for 30 minutes against Vissel Kobe was only agreed upon after the team's training session the night before.
He said: “After training on Tuesday evening, (Messi) said he felt good and we agreed that he would play 30 minutes.” He added: “We are very happy now that the match is over because Messi looked very comfortable.”
“It was really a big risk to even play with him for a few minutes,” Martino had previously said after the match against the Hong Kong team.
The Miami team will conclude its preparations for the new season with a friendly match against Messi's childhood club, Newell's Old Boys, on February 16.
Lionel Messi's no-show sparks boos in Hong Kong, but Inter Miami is focused on the bigger picture
(Peter Parkes/AFP via Getty Images)
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