After Lionel Messi did not play in a preseason friendly, furious fans in Hong Kong jeered Inter Miami.
A hamstring ailment kept the 36-year-old Argentina World Cup winner on the sidelines as Inter defeated a local League XI 4-1 in front of over 40,000 spectators.
“Refund” cries were heard, while booing muffled David Beckham’s address, who co-owns Inter.
According to the Hong Kong authorities, Messi was under contract to play for at least forty-five minutes.
Hong Kong’s secretary for culture, sports, and tourism, Kevin Yeung, said that government representatives had been informed on multiple occasions that Messi would play.
It was only with ten minutes remained in the game that they learned the former Barcelona star would not be playing due to an abductor injury.
“We immediately requested them to explore other remedies, such as Messi appearing on the pitch to interact with his fans and receiving the trophy,” Yeung stated.
“Unfortunately, as you all see, this did not work out.”
Tatler Asia, the organisation that organises the matches, would receive less money if Messi doesn’t play.
“About Messi’s decision to not play in today’s game, the administration is deeply dissatisfied in the decision made by the organisers, as are all football supporters. The major sports events committee (MSEC) of the government stated that the organiser “owes all football fans an explanation.”
“The MSEC will take follow-up actions with the organiser according to the terms and conditions, which includes reducing the amount of funding as a result of Messi not playing the match.”
The MSEC announced that it has awarded a grant of one million Hong Kong dollars for the venue in addition to 15 million Hong Kong dollars (£1.5 million) for the event.
“One of the key terms of our funding agreement with Tatler Asia was for Messi to participate in the match for at least 45 minutes, subject to fitness and safety considerations,” Yeung stated.
“We haven’t paid any money yet.”
Each ticket for the nearly full Hong Kong Stadium (38,323) cost more than 1,000 Hong Kong dollars (£101).
However, Messi was not in the game, and Luis Suarez, a striker from Uruguay who signed with Inter Miami in December, was also out due to a knee ailment.
Chants of “we want Messi” became louder in the second half as the captain of Argentina, who was signed in July, remained on the sidelines.
When Beckham attempted to thank supporters for their “incredible support” after the final whistle, he was drowned out by jeers.
“Despite some news reports, Tatler did not have any information about Messi or Suarez’s non-participation prior to kick-off,” the organisers stated.
“Messi and Suarez were deemed unfit to play by their team’s medical department, to everyone’s, including ours, disappointment.”
“We understand the fans’ disappointment in the absence of Messi and Suarez, and we apologise for that, but this was a decision made with our medical staff,” Inter manager Gerardo Martino stated.
“If there was a way they could have played even a little while we would have done it, but there was too much risk involved.