Lionel Messi's absence from a match in Hong Kong has sparked online outrage in the city and mainland China, accusing the football superstar of trying to embarrass Beijing or even being involved in a sinister foreign conspiracy. Has been accused of. The Argentina ace and his team Inter Miami drew the ire of fans in Hong Kong on Sunday when he missed a friendly match citing injury. Enthusiasts who shouted “Refund!” Saying he had shelled out upwards of 4,800 Hong Kong dollars ($500) to watch, he gave thumbs-up signs and drowned out team co-owner David Beckham with jeers as he tried to thank the crowd.
However, just days later, he played a 30-minute friendly in Japan – causing outrage and accusations that he had booed China.
On Friday, event organizer Tatler Asia said it was “deeply sorry” and promised a 50 percent refund to those who purchased tickets.
But the outrage has prompted the influential nationalist newspaper Global Times to suggest that sinister foreign forces had conspired to damage the city's reputation.
“One theory is that (Messi's) actions have political motives, as Hong Kong wants to promote [the] The economy and external forces deliberately wanted to embarrass Hong Kong through this incident,” it said.
“Given the evolution of the situation, this speculation cannot be ruled out.”
The Hong Kong government has demanded an explanation from the match organisers, who sought public funding for the event, and said they had been repeatedly assured that Messi would play.
The Argentine player said it was “unfortunate” he could not play and that he hoped to return to City.
But Regina Ip, a top adviser to the Hong Kong government, is furious that Messi “should never be allowed to return”.
IP interferes with social media platforms.
“Their lies and hypocrisy are disgusting,” he said.
On the mainland, Messi's non-appearance trended on X-like Weibo platforms throughout the week.
A post by the footballer expressing regret at not being able to play was flooded with funny comments and memes.
Some portrayed Messi as an Imperial Japanese soldier – a reference to his perceived preference for the country over China.
One user wrote, “Messi is very rude and arrogant, which is really annoying.”
Reflecting the hurt sentiments, Hong Kong actress Samantha Ko Hoi-ling was also forced to apologize on stage, after she told local media in the city that she “understood” her decision to leave the game.
But some suggested the reaction was exaggerated.
“Do we really need to turn this into a sparring session?” One Weibo user wrote in reference to China's bloody Cultural Revolution, when alleged enemies of leader Mao Zedong were forced to make public confessions.
Hu Zijin, a prominent nationalist commentator, wrote that criticism should be “measured so as not to elevate their status”.
“As if even one careless expression of his could touch our great nation and hurt the sentiments of our entire society.”
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
Topics mentioned in this article