Lionel Messi facing calls to be banned from Hong Kong after being branded 'disgusting'
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Lionel Messi is facing calls to be banned from Hong Kong after his 'disgusting' behaviour infuriated fans.
With a couple of weeks to go until the 2024 MLS season gets underway, Inter Miami have been enjoying a pre-season tour in Asia.
Thousands of fans have turned up to their games in hope of catching a glimpse of Lionel Messi, but match-goers in Hong Kong were left disappointed.
The 2023 Ballon d'Or winner was an unused substitute during his side's 4-1 win against a Hong Kong XI on Sunday, and after the game he confirmed that he had suffered a "swollen and painful" groin injury.
It's fair to say the incident did not go down well with the 38,000 fans that turned up hoping to see their hero at the Hong Kong Stadium.
Many booed and demanded refunds when Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham addressed the crowd after Sunday's match. Some supporters paid up to HK$4,880 (£494) to see Messi.
Now, fans and political figures in Hong Kong are incensed after Messi came off the bench in a match against Japan's Vissel Kobe just three days after his Hong Kong no-show.
State media outlet Global Times accused the footballer and his club Inter Miami of "political motives" with the aim of "embarrassing" Hong Kong.
Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong's secretary for culture, sports and tourism, claimed government officials were repeatedly told that Messi would play. But with 10 minutes left in the match, they were informed that injury would prevent him from playing.
"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.
"Unfortunately, as you all see, this did not work out."
John Lee, chief executive of the territory of Hong Kong, said he was extremely disappointed by Messi's absence and called for an explanation from match organisers.
Hong Kong lawmaker Regina Ip accused Inter Miami and Messi of making a "deliberate and calculated snub."
She said: "Messi should never be allowed to return to Hong Kong. His lies and hypocrisy are disgusting.
"Hong Kong people hate Messi, Inter-Miami, and the black hand behind them."
After the game, match organiser Tatler Asia confirmed that Messi had been contracted to play unless injured.
Messi said in a press conference: "I hope that one day we will have the opportunity to come back and give our best to our fans and friends in Hong Kong."