Football legend Lionel Messi takes aim at ‘false stories’ about Hong Kong no-show, dismisses rumours decision involved politics

Argentine football star Lionel Messi has sought to tamp down the national outrage over his decision to sit out a match in Hong Kong, saying speculation politics involved were unfounded and that he hoped to meet his Chinese fans in person again.

In a two-minute video released on the mainland Chinese social media platform Weibo, Messi said he wanted to explain why he decided against joining his Inter Miami teammates on the pitch for the friendly against a local team on February 4.

“I have read and heard many things that were said after the game in Hong Kong,” he said. “I wanted to record this video and give you the true version so that no one has to continue reading false stories.

“As you all know, I always want to play and be involved in every game. I’ve heard people say that I didn’t want to play for political reasons and many other reasons that are totally untrue. Had that been the case, I wouldn’t have even travelled to Japan or visited China as many times as I have.”


Lionel Messi plays in Japan 3 days after sitting out Hong Kong game, adding fuel to fans’ anger

Lionel Messi plays in Japan 3 days after sitting out Hong Kong game, adding fuel to fans’ anger

The match, organised by Tatler Asia, was shaping up to be one of the city’s biggest sporting events of the year, but Messi sat out the game, leaving tens of thousands of fans in the packed Hong Kong Stadium outraged and confused. He later cited a thigh muscle inflammation as the reason he could not play, but just days later took to the field for a match in Japan.

Messi’s quick return to playing form fuelled accusations he was deliberately insulting the city, with some local politicians and mainland media calling it a “calculated snub” and a “political move to embarrass” Hong Kong.

The 34-year-old reiterated in the video that an inflamed adductor muscle prevented him from playing and noted he took part in a training session the day before the match.

“I tried to train and made an effort for all those who’d come to watch training,” he said. “I did all I could. I also went along to the football clinic with all the kids. But I really couldn’t play. I felt discomfort and there was a risk it’d get worse.”

Conflicting account from Tatler Asia over Messi no-show in Hong Kong

Messi also spoke about his personal affection for China and said he hoped to see his fans there again.

“Since the start of my career, I’ve had a very close and special relationship with China. I’ve done a lot of things in China – interviews, games and events,” he added.

“As always, I send good wishes to everyone in China who I’ve always had and continue to have special affection for. I hope to see you again soon. A big hug and take care. Ciao!”

The video was posted days after mainland sports authorities appeared to have ruled out an appearance by Messi next month. The Argentina national squad, captained by Messi, had scheduled a tour of China from March 18-26, which included friendly matches with Nigeria in Hangzhou and against the Ivory Coast in Beijing.

Hong Kong consumer watchdog urges Messi match organiser to expedite refunds

But the Beijing Football Association said on February 10 it had “no plans at the moment to host any matches involving Messi”.

And on February 9, the Hangzhou Municipal Sports Bureau announced the cancellation of the friendly match between Argentina and Nigeria for reasons “known by everyone”.

Messi posted his first message about the Hong Kong fiasco on his Weibo account on February 7. He explained how the thigh pain had prevented him from joining the match. He said he hoped his team could visit the city again and give its best to fans.


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