Inter Miami's Lionel Messi plays in a friendly soccer match between Vissel Kobe and Inter Miami at the National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan, on February 7.
The Chinese authorities canceled two football matches in which the Argentine national team participated, amid increasing violent reactions in the country against Argentine star Lionel Messi.
Messi faced a wave of criticism after remaining on the bench during an exhibition match in which his team, Inter Miami, participated in the American Football League in Hong Kong.
The match in Hong Kong was attended by a huge crowd of 40,000 spectators – many of whom were hoping to see the man widely regarded as the best footballer in the world, but the occasion ended acrimoniously when fans booed and jeered and demanded a refund as he had failed. Going down to the field. .
Messi has since said that he wanted to play but was kept off the field due to injury. But this did not prevent a torrent of criticism directed towards the Chinese Internet.
The latest sign of China's dissatisfaction with Messi came on Friday, when the sports authorities in Beijing and Hangzhou announced that they would no longer host the two friendly matches that the Argentine team was scheduled to play in March.
The team was supposed to face Nigeria at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center and Ivory Coast at the Workers' Sports Complex in Beijing.
But on Friday, the Hangzhou Sports Bureau said in a WeChat post that the match had been canceled “in light of the reason known to everyone.”
She added, “The conditions for holding the event are not ripe and it was decided to cancel the event.”
Later in the day, the Beijing Football Association announced the cancellation of the remaining match.
“Recently, many fans and netizen friends have asked about Messi’s match in Beijing,” the soccer body said in a post on social media, adding that “Beijing currently has no plans to host the relevant competitions in which Messi will participate.”
Messi remained on the bench when Inter Miami played the Hong Kong side on 4 February, despite repeated requests from the Hong Kong government and the organiser, Tatler Asia, for him to take to the field.
His coach later said that Messi was injured and the medical team advised him at the last minute not to play. Messi later said that this was a “shame” and that he wanted to participate.
His subsequent thirty-minute appearance in a friendly match days later against Vissel Kobe in Japan only served to further anger Chinese fans, with many – including pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong – likening him to insulting China.
Messi now faces a public relations nightmare in one of the world's most lucrative sporting markets, where he has until now enjoyed widespread popularity.
Hong Kong match organizer Tatler XFEST announced on Friday that it would refund 50% of the ticket price to fans, a move it said would cost the company $7.1 million and leave it facing losses of nearly $5.5 million.
“Our ambition was to create a special moment to support the government’s efforts to remind the world how important and exciting Hong Kong is. That dream has been shattered today for us and for all those who bought tickets to see Messi on the pitch,” said the company, which publishes Tatler-branded magazines across Asia.
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