Storm under a skull. The organizer of Inter Miami's friendly match in Hong Kong had committed to playing Lionel Messi for at least 45 minutes, Hong Kong's sports minister revealed on Monday, after the Argentine superstar's absence sparked public fury.
The captain of the world champion Argentina team, who officially suffers from a strained hamstring, remained on the sidelines for the entire duration of the friendly match won 4-1 against a Hong Kong selection on Sunday .
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His package angered the 38,323 spectators who had paid a minimum of 125 dollars (115 euros), and in many cases five times more, to see their idol in action. Chants of “pay it back!” and the screams crescendoed until the final whistle when Englishman David Beckham, co-owner of the Miami club, was drowned out by boos when he tried to thank the crowd.
The Hong Kong government issued two consecutive statements on Sunday evening, saying it was "extremely disappointed", and threatening to withdraw 1.9 million euros in public funding from the event's organizer, Tatler Asia, a media outlet specializing in luxury fashion and lifestyle.
“One of the key conditions of our funding agreement with Tatler Asia was that Messi participates in the match for at least 45 minutes, subject to fitness and security considerations,” said Kevin Yeung, Secretary of the culture, sports and tourism of Hong Kong, during a press conference on Monday. “Yesterday, before the start of the match, the organizer Tatler Asia reaffirmed that Messi was going to play in the second half,” he explained.
Yeung, who attended the match at the stadium with other officials including Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, said the local government had tried to negotiate with the organizer when the 36-year-old did not appear on the field at the start of the second half.
Negotiations reached an impasse ten minutes before the end of the match, as "solutions" such as Messi appearing on the pitch to interact with fans and receive the trophy were refused. The minister added that the Hong Kong government would make a decision on whether to withdraw the planned financial assistance after reviewing the facts with the event organizer.