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Messi match organisers ‘deeply regret’ no-show, cancel funding bid

Organisers of a Hong Kong football match which drew boos after star man Lionel Messi failed to play said Monday they deeply regretted the no-show, and would withdraw a bid for a HK$16 million ($2 million) government grant.

Tatler Asia’s CEO read out a statement Monday evening confirming Messi had been contracted to take the field, unless injured, in a pre-season friendly in Hong Kong.

Instead the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner, who has a leg muscle strain, stayed on the bench throughout Inter Miami’s 4-1 win against a Hong Kong select XI.

The match ended with Messi, his Inter Miami team and club co-owner David Beckham being booed off by nearly 40,000 irate fans who had shelled out large sums to see the World Cup-winning captain play. 

Fans who had paid upwards of 1,000 Hong Kong dollars ($125) to see Messi chanted “Refund!”, gave thumbs-down signs and drowned out Beckham with jeers as he tried to thank the crowd.

“Tatler Asia deeply regrets the disappointing ending to what was an exciting occasion,” said Michel Lamuniere, chairman and CEO, in the statement.

“(Tatler Asia) has decided to officially withdraw its application for… the HK$16 million government grant.”

Lamuniere said the organisers were made aware that Messi would not play only at half-time, after he had been named among the substitutes, and “Tatler Asia immediately informed the government”.

That appeared to contradict Hong Kong’s sports minister who told reporters earlier Monday that government officials had been repeatedly assured Messi would play, even after half-time.

It was not until 10 minutes from the final whistle that secretary for culture, sports and tourism Kevin Yeung said he and officials were informed that Messi’s injury—inflammation of an abductor muscle—would keep him out.

“We immediately requested (the organisers) to explore other remedies, such as Messi appearing on the field to interact with his fans and receiving the trophy,” Yeung said. 

“Unfortunately, as you all see, this did not work out.”

Hong Kong’s consumer council said it had received 38 complaints from 29 residents and nine overseas visitors about the match by midday on Monday.

They involved a total of HK$216,964 spent, with the largest individual complaint amounting to HK$22,338. 

“Most of the promotional materials were using photos of certain players… so it was reasonable for consumers to expect that player to participate,” the council said in a statement.  

“Consumers can also seek independent legal advice on whether the incident is suspected of breaching a contract or could be subject to civil lawsuits.” 

Inter Miami and Messi are due to play the final pre-season match of their tour against Japan’s Vissel Kobe in Tokyo on Wednesday. It is not clear whether Messi will recover in time.

The 36-year-old had played just six minutes in Miami’s previous match in Saudi Arabia. The new MLS season in the United States starts on February 21.

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