HONG KONG - The organiser of the Inter Miami football match in Hong Kong, where fans booed superstar Lionel Messi for not taking part, said it would issue a 50% refund to ticket holders worth US$7.2 million.
Tatler Asia, which was criticised by the city’s leader for the debacle, apologised to spectators in a statement on Friday and blamed the US Major League Soccer team. Tickets cost as much as HK$4,880 (22,400 baht) for Sunday’s match, which was attended by some 38,000 people.
Pressure had been building on the organiser to offer compensation to fans angered by Messi’s no-show, especially after the Argentine World Cup winner played for half an hour in a match in Tokyo just days later.
The refund comes after Tatler Asia said it would forfeit HK$16 million worth of funding from the government. The club is co-owned by former Manchester United great David Beckham.
“We put our blood and sweat into bringing a world-class football match to Hong Kong and we were let down along with all of you,” the company said in the statement, adding that there was a “seeming lack of respect shown to the crowd” by Inter Miami.
The refund means the luxury lifestyle brand will record a loss of HK$43 million from the event, instead of a planned profit of HK$13 million, according to the statement.
Hong Kong’s government said it welcomed the refund and reiterated a request for Inter Miami to explain why Messi played in Japan so soon after sitting out the Hong Kong match due to injury.
Messi’s perceived snub has also triggered outrage in mainland China, where the Argentine national football team is due to play next month. The Global Times, a nationalist newspaper controlled by the state, said in an editorial that Messi failed to apologise and the impact of the incident “far exceeded the realm of sports”.
Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of Global Times, said Messi’s commercial value in China would plummet as companies refrain from associating with the footballer.
“For a person whose career is coming to an end and whose morals are not very good, we should simply scold him and then ignore him,” he wrote on Weibo on Thursday.
In a post on Weibo on Wednesday, Messi, 36, told fans he regretted being unable to play in Hong Kong due to an injury to his adductor muscles. The same day Inter Miami said it was sorry that Messi and teammate Luis Suárez could not participate in the match.
The team said it had waited until the last minute to rule out the players to maximise the chances of them playing, adding that injuries are part of the game.
Messi last played in mainland China in June, when he led Argentina in a friendly against Australia in Beijing. The national team is scheduled to return to China for exhibitions against Nigeria and Ivory Coast in March.