China Cancels Soccer Star Lionel Messi – Hong Kong – Newsweek

China‘s soccer association has canceled an upcoming friendly match in which Lionel Messi was supposed to appear following a controversial absence from the field in a game in Hong Kong, according to Chinese state media.

Messi, who plays for MLS team Inter Miami, has been at the center of a public outcry in China after the star player was a no-show at a friendly match in Hong Kong on February 4. The local government criticized Messi for not appearing, citing an injury, to meet the fans.

The Beijing Football Association has said the city will not hold any match where Messi is supposed to play as the controversy around his absence from the Hong Kong match rages, according to national outlet Global Times.

Messi, who is from Argentina, was set to play in a friendly match against Ivory Coast in the Chinese capital, which may now have been canceled. The Athletic, a sports news website, citing sources, reported that the Beijing match was not going to take place.

Fans in Hong Kong, who paid as much as $624 to watch Messi play in the match, chanted “refund” after the soccer sensation failed to appear during the game.

Another upcoming friendly match with the Argentinian national soccer team, which was scheduled to take place in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in March, has also been canceled. Argentina and Nigeria were slated to play a friendly next month, where Messi would have made an appearance.

Global Times said on Saturday that the match in Hangzhou was canceled because of “well-known reasons,” hinting that China was reacting to Messi’s decision not to take part in the Hong Kong match.

“In view of the current well-known reasons, according to the competent authorities, conditions to hold the friendly match are not mature, therefore [we] have decided to cancel it,” Reuters reported about the cancellation of the match, citing Hangzhou authorities.

Pui Kwan Kay, the president of the Hong Kong Football Association, criticized Messi for disappointing the fans.

“Even if he were injured, he should still interact with the sports fans after [the] competition ended. Dissatisfaction could have been easily dispelled if he had just said ‘sorry.’ But he didn’t even make the effort. How do you think the 38,000 fans at the stadium and those watching on TV perceived his actions?” Pui told Global Times.

Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong’s secretary for culture, sports and tourism, recently said the local government tried to arrange for Messi to meet the fans during the match.

“We immediately requested them to explore other remedies, such as Messi appearing on the field to interact with his fans,” Yeung said during a press conference, Newsweek reported earlier.

Newsweek has contacted Inter Miami for comment regarding the alleged cancellation of the two upcoming friendly matches.

Global Times hinted that Chinese companies could end their commercial relationship with Messi as the controversy refuses to die.

“Industry observers warned that Messi’s recent actions could lead to a decline in its commercial value in the Chinese market,” reported the newspaper.

Lionel Messi of Inter Miami on February 7 in Tokyo. China is believed to have canceled two soccer matches in the country in which Messi was supposed to play.

Hiroki Watanabe/GC Images/Getty Images Entertainment