HK to require back-up plans in wake of Messi mess

2024-02-07 10:31:13China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region plans to put in place clear instructions for event organizers, including requesting them to draw up back-up plans in advance, in the wake of the no-show fiasco of soccer superstar Lionel Messi on Sunday at a friendly match, irritating local fans and those that had come in from afar to watch it.

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said on Tuesday he has instructed relevant authorities to review the incident, optimize arrangements and inform the public.

Lee said although the organizer, Tatler Asia, has withdrawn the "M" event status — a mark to showcase government-funded events — and its application for HK$16 million ($2.04 million) in government sponsorship, it still has responsibilities to respond to the demands of the fans who were badly let down.

On Sunday, Messi, who was by contract required to play for 45 minutes in the match between Inter Miami and Hong Kong XI, sat on the bench for the whole game due to a reported injury.

The government was informed of Messi's no-show by the organizer 10 minutes before the match ended, and its makeup proposals of having Messi address about 40,000 disappointed fans was also met with no success.

The consumer council on Tuesday confirmed there have been 477 complaints so far, involving HK$3.1 million. The highest amount involved for a single case was over HK$24,000.

Speaking at a news conference in Japan on Tuesday, Messi said he had been suffering from muscle discomfort during the exhibition match in Saudi Arabia before moving on to Hong Kong, although an MRI scan showed no injuries.

He described his inability to play in Hong Kong as "bad luck", and said that he hoped to have the opportunity to come back and play a game there.

"But the truth is that it is a shame that I was not able to participate," Messi said. He said he is feeling much better and hoped to take part in Wednesday's exhibition match against Japan's Vissel Kobe.

In a video posted to social media on Monday, Messi was seen to have completed a training session and was walking steadily.

Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, said on a radio program on Tuesday morning he would feel unhappy if Messi plays the match in Japan, while he could not rule out the possibility that Messi's injury improved after a few days.

Messi's remarks drew the wrath of lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, who called it a great insult since Messi made his explanation in Tokyo rather than when he was in Hong Kong.

"Was it really so difficult for Messi to get on the stage to present the trophy, speak, or take some photos with the fans in order to show some respect?" Tien wrote on social media.

"Had he done so, I would accept it even if he didn't play in the game."

The lawmaker called on the government to demand refunds from the event organizer, or otherwise ban it from renting venues in the city to host events.

Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, a lawmaker in the sports, performing arts, culture and publication sector, criticized the performance of Inter Miami and Messi for being disrespectful to Hong Kong fans.

He revealed that the SAR government organized a high-level welcoming ceremony for Messi's arrival, and that the team left before the ceremony ended.

Fok said Inter Miami should not participate in soccer just for the sake of making money, and the team owed an explanation and apology to Hong Kong fans.

He also criticized Tatler Asia, which he said only focused on marketing and didn't care about the fans and soccer.

Vincent Cheng Wing-shun, vice-chairman of the Major Sports Events Committee, said he had asked the committee to hold a meeting as soon as possible to discuss the incident, and he believed that the committee would review the standards and criteria for approving the "M" mark events.

As for whether the incident would affect Hong Kong's ability to hold large-scale sports events in the future, Cheng said organizations and sports associations from around the world are still interested in organizing activities in Hong Kong, and there would still be many large-scale sports events held this year.

In spite of the careful inspection, he also pointed out that it is necessary to retain a certain degree of flexibility for the organizers, otherwise the creativity of the events might be affected.

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