The organizer of a much-hyped exhibition match that intended to showcase Lionel Messi in Hong Kong said on Friday it would offer a partial refund to fans following days of backlash when he did not play in the contest.
Inter Miami apologized on Thursday for Messi’s inability to play in the exhibition game, a late decision the MLS club said it deemed necessary.
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Messi, record eight-times Ballon D’Or winner, did not warm up in front of the 40,000 fans in Hong Kong Stadium on Sunday as he was being assessed by medical staff who decided it was too risky for him and teammate Luis Suárez to play.
Organizer, Tatler Asia, said it had been in talks with the Hong Kong government on how to resolve the issue and details of the refund arrangement would be announced by mid-March.
“We will not escape our responsibility as organizers and that is why Tatler Asia will offer all those who purchased match-day tickets from the official channels a 50% refund,” it said.
Miami said that with regard to Messi and Suárez, they wanted to make a game-time decision so it offered the largest window to allow for the chance they could be made available for selection.
“Despite our best intentions, we understand there has been disappointment over the absence of Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez in Sunday’s match and we are sorry that the two players could not participate,” Miami said in a statement sent to Reuters on Thursday.
“We also recognize that the late decision caused frustration among our Hong Kong supporters and the event promoter, Tatler Asia. We do feel it necessary to express that injuries are unfortunately a part of the beautiful game, and our player’s health must always come first.
Three days later, 36-year-old Messi came on in the 60th minute in Inter Miami’s friendly against J-League side Vissel Kobe in Tokyo where entire blocks of seating at the Japan National Stadium remained unoccupied, with only 28,614 tickets sold.
Spectators at the sold-out Hong Kong game, which Miami won 4-1 over a local League XI, chanted “refund,” while the Hong Kong government said match organisers Tatler Asia may face a reduction in funding.
The Major Sports Events Committee (MSEC) had granted HK$15 million ($1.92 million) for the event along with a HK$1 million grant for the venue, the government said in a statement.
Inter Miami said it would be eager to return to Hong Kong should fans be open to receiving the club again.
“Players get injured in football and this is no one’s fault. It is one part of the beautiful game that is cruel, and impacted our visit to Hong Kong on this occasion,” Miami said.
“As we continue to consume the headlines and negativity towards the different stakeholders, we felt compelled to reiterate the reality of these types of sports injuries.”
Inter Miami has won only one of the six games in its preseason tour — stretching from El Salvador to Dallas into Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong and ending in Tokyo. Its final warmup match is scheduled for Feb. 16 in Florida against Newell’s Old Boys, Messi’s boyhood club from Rosario, Argentina.
Information from Reuters and the Associated Press was used in this report.