Inter Miami accused of breaking Lionel Messi contract as row over payment escalates
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Inter Miami have been accused of breaking a contract clause that ensured Lionel Messi would feature in a friendly against a Hong Kong XI.
What followed were ugly scenes as a near-capacity crowd of 38,323, who had paid over 1,000 Hong Kong dollars (£100) to see Messi, chanted "Refund!" and drowned out Miami co-owner David Beckham with boos as he tried to thank the punters upon the final whistle.
Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong's secretary for culture, sports and tourism has since told a news conference that government officials at the game had been repeatedly assured Messi would play, and were only informed that his injury would keep him out ten minutes from the end.
"We immediately requested them to explore other remedies, such as Messi appearing on the field to interact with his fans and receiving the trophy," Yeung said via France 24.
"Unfortunately, as you all see, this did not work out."
Yeung added that up to 16 million Hong Kong dollars (£1.6million) of public money could be withheld from the organisers.
"One of the key terms of our funding agreement with (organisers) Tatler Asia was for Messi to participate in the match for at least 45 minutes, subject to fitness and safety considerations," he said.
"We haven't paid any money yet. In the coming weeks, we will further liaise with the organiser Tatler Asia.
"We will discuss the performance of the whole event and we will make a decision on how to deal with the sponsorship."
In response, Tatler Asia said: "Despite some news reports, Tatler did not have any information about the non-participation.”
SPORTbible has contacted Inter Miami for comment on Yeung’s claims.
Miami are due to play a pre-season match against Japan's Vissel Kobe in Tokyo on Wednesday, though It is not clear whether Messi will recover in time. The new MLS season in the United States starts on February 21.