Organiser offers 50 per cent refund for tickets after backlash over Messi absence

Lionel Messi
Inter Miami's Lionel Messi was benched duriing the game against Hong Kong XI. File photo: Reuters//Lam Yik

Hong Kong: The organiser of a highly anticipated Inter Miami match in Hong Kong last week, expected to star Lionel Messi, will give a 50 per cent refund for tickets after widespread anger that the Argentine player did not take the field due to injury but played in Japan days later.

Tatler Asia, a privately owned publishing and lifestyle company, said in a statement on its Instagram page that it was "deeply sorry" and "heartbroken" that fans were let down after Messi stayed on the bench during Sunday's match.

The match in Hong Kong drew 40,000 fans, with some spectators paying up to nearly HK$5,000 ($640) per ticket. All match day tickets bought from official channels can get a 50 per cent refund, Tatler said, adding that it had been in discussions with the Hong Kong government to resolve the issue.

Miami head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino said Messi was deemed unfit to play in the friendly in Hong Kong, but he came on as a 60th minute substitute against Vissel Kobe on Wednesday.

"When we learned that Messi would not be playing, we pleaded with Inter Miami CF ownership and management to urge him to stand up, engage with the spectators and explain why he couldn't play," Tatler said.

"He didn't. The fact that Messi and (Luis) Suarez played in Japan on February 7 feels like another slap in the face."

In the match in Tokyo, entire blocks of seating at the Japan National Stadium remained unoccupied, with just 28,614 tickets sold.

Chinese state media, Hong Kong politicians and some fans swiftly condemned Messi's participation in the Japan match, with state-controlled Global Times writing that Messi's absence posed many questions on the differential treatment for Hong Kong.

In a statement, Hong Kong's government said the refund showed that Tatler Asia had made its best effort to arrange a refund, adding that many people have questions about the incident.

"The government hopes that the Inter Miami team will eventually provide a reasonable explanation to Hong Kong citizens and fans who came to Hong Kong to watch the game."

Tatler Asia said Inter Miami had committed to ensuring that their top players including Messi and Uruguay's Suarez would play for 45 minutes unless injured.

It said it had hoped to create an iconic moment in support of the government's efforts to remind the world how relevant and exciting Hong Kong is.

"That dream is broken today for us and all those who bought tickets to see Messi on the pitch."

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