Why Lionel Messi became center of geopolitical storm in Hong Kong

FOOTBALL Why Lionel Messi became center of geopolitical storm in Hong Kong

Mark Kinyanjui 19:31 - 15.02.2024

Lionel Messi's absence from a Hong Kong match left fans, who paid $640 ( Ksh 102,400) each, feeling deceived amidst a global controversy.

The organizers of the Inter Miami pre-season fixture in Hong Kong, which stirred controversy and diplomatic tensions after Lionel Messi's absence, have disclosed their efforts to persuade the MLS side to field the Argentine star.

 Despite attempts to include Messi, he did not play in the match, leading to a significant backlash and becoming a focal point in cultural and geopolitical disputes spanning China, the United States, Argentina, Japan, and Hong Kong.

The fallout included a Hong Kong politician urging Messi never to return, and Chinese state-affiliated media, without evidence, insinuating that external forces might have influenced Messi to undermine Hong Kong. 

Inter Miami emerged victorious against a Hong Kong XI on February 4, with Messi sidelined due to an adductor injury. However, Tatler Asia, the organizer, had used Messi's image for promotion and sold high-priced tickets, leaving fans feeling deceived.

Michel Lamuniere, chairman and CEO of Tatler Asia, revealed that he learned about Messi's non-participation just 15 minutes before kickoff. 

The first half of the match was then spent exploring options to include Messi, engaging in discussions, and maneuvering around the situation. Inter Miami declined to comment on the matter.

The event was set to receive over $2 million in funding from the Hong Kong government, but due to the fallout, this funding will no longer be granted.

 Tatler Asia responded by announcing refunds of up to 50 percent for fans who purchased tickets through official channels.

Messi also faced a barrage of hostility on social media platforms, with one message expressing unwelcome sentiments towards him and referencing geopolitical issues.

 Additionally, Chinese sports authorities in Beijing and Hangzhou decided not to host two friendly matches involving Messi's Argentina national team against Ivory Coast and Nigeria scheduled for March 9.

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