The uproar over refunds is escalating against the organizers of a football match in Hong Kong featuring Inter Miami, with a lawmaker threatening legal action if Tatler Asia fails to provide a satisfactory explanation for Lionel Messi’s absence from play within a week.
Despite participating in a match in Japan, Messi remained on the bench for the entire game in Hong Kong, sparking speculation among analysts and drawing criticism from various quarters. Mainland Chinese newspaper Global Times even suggested the possibility of foreign intervention behind Messi’s absence.
Lawmaker Bill Tang Ka-piu delivered an ultimatum outside the Small Claims Tribunal, stating that several individuals are prepared to file claims if Tatler Asia does not clarify the reasons for Messi’s absence and offer refunds to ticket buyers who paid more than HK$3,000 (US$384) each.
The city’s consumer watchdog has been flooded with over 1,000 complaints related to ticket sales for the match, amounting to approximately HK$6.9 million. Tang alleges potential violations of trade descriptions and is ready to challenge the organizer legally to ascertain whether an agreement required Messi’s participation.
Meanwhile, the Global Times published an opinion piece expressing doubts about Messi and his team’s treatment of Hong Kong compared to Japan, calling for a reasonable explanation from Messi before the Argentine national football team’s friendly match against China in March.
Consultant Lau Siu-kai from the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies believes that the conspiracy theory surrounding Messi’s absence could gain traction, especially given public skepticism about the team’s explanation. Lau suggests that such discourse could negatively impact Messi and the team’s future engagements in China and Chinese communities.
Professor Patrick Lau Wing-chung from Baptist University suggests that Messi’s recent performance in Japan indicates his injury was likely not severe. However, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a prominent figure in Hong Kong, condemns Messi’s actions and suggests that he should be barred from returning to Hong Kong due to perceived dishonesty and hypocrisy.
Authorities in Hong Kong have pledged to investigate the incident further, even after the organizer withdrew a government sponsorship application worth HK$16 million (US$2 million). Sports minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung confirms that officials had no direct contact with the team but were informed by the organizer that Messi was expected to play unless he was incapacitated.
Tatler Asia has maintained that they anticipated Messi’s participation in the match based on prior arrangements with Inter Miami management until halftime when they were informed of Messi’s inability to play due to an injury.
As the situation unfolds, public pressure mounts for transparency and accountability from the event organizers.