Lionel Messi denies political motives behind Hong Kong game absence amid backlash

Web Desk
February 20, 2024

Messi explained that an inflamed abductor muscle prevented him from playing

Inter Miami player Lionel Messi sits on the sideline in a pre-season friendly soccer match against Hong Kong XI at Hong Kong Stadium in this undated photo. —Reuters

Soccer icon Lionel Messi has addressed the controversy surrounding his absence from an exhibition match in Hong Kong, insisting it had "nothing to do with political reasons," AOL reported.

In a video posted on Weibo, Messi explained that an inflamed abductor muscle prevented him from playing, refuting allegations of political motives.

Messi's non-participation in the friendly match between a Hong Kong team and his Inter Miami MLS club on February 4 sparked outrage among fans, who had paid premium ticket prices.

Initially set to sponsor the game, the Hong Kong government demanded an explanation for Messi's absence. Tensions escalated when Messi played in an exhibition game in Japan three days later.

Responding to the allegations, Messi stated in the video, "Had that been the case, I wouldn't have even travelled to Japan or visited China as many times as I have." He emphasised his longstanding "close and special relationship" with China, expressing good wishes to everyone in the country.

While Messi did not issue a direct apology, some social media users defended him, emphasising the need to avoid politicising sports. The fallout from the incident led to the cancellation of a friendly game in Hangzhou and the withdrawal of government funding for the Hong Kong event, organised by Tatler Asia.

Former Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, who had been critical of Messi, accepted the player's explanation, noting his "quite sincere" attitude. Despite potential challenges in restoring Messi's image in Hong Kong and mainland China, Hu believed in moving forward from the controversy.


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