HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s sports minister on Monday reiterated the government’s call for an explanation from the organizer of a soccer match between Inter Miami and a local team following widespread disappointment over Lionel Messi remaining on the bench throughout the entire game.
The much-hyped exhibition match on Sunday ended with fans booing Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham and demanding refunds as Messi did not play in the game due to a hamstring strain.
The fans’ reaction was a setback for Hong Kong officials who sought to boost the city’s image as a hub for mega events amid a slow economic recovery and Beijing’s crackdown on dissidents.
In a press briefing Monday, Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung said the government’s funding agreement with the match organizer, Tatler Asia, required Messi to play on the field for at least 45 minutes, unless there were safety or health concerns.
Yeung said the organizers had reaffirmed that Messi would be playing in the second half of the match before the start of the game. When the government noticed the second half did not proceed as planned, the government tried to follow up with the organizer but was told Messi could not play due to an injury, he said.
“We therefore immediately request them to explore other remedies such as Messi appearing in the field to interact with his fans and receiving the trophy. Unfortunately, as you all see, these did not work out,” he said.
Organizers of the exhibition were awarded 16 million Hong Kong dollars ($2 million) in funding by a government advisory committee and its tickets cost up to 4,880 Hong Kong dollars ($624) each.
On Sunday night, the government expressed its disappointment in two statements, saying its follow-up action might involve reducing the funds allocated for the event.
Yeung said officials would make a decision on the funding issue later.
Tatler Asia on Sunday night insisted it had no information in advance that Messi or Suarez would not be playing. It also expressed its “extreme disappointment regarding Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez’s non-participation.”
Inter Miami will conclude its Asian tour in Japan on Wednesday when it plays Vissel Kobe.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer