The real reason Hong Kong is so mad at Lionel Messi

Anger over soccer star Lionel Messi's failure to play in an exhibition game has escalated into a diplomatic spat

Lionel Messi (Inter Miami CF) in action during a preseason game against Newell's Old Boys at the DRV PNK Stadium on February 15th, 2024 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Lionel Messi (Inter Miami CF) in action during a preseason game against Newell's Old Boys at the DRV PNK Stadium on February 15th, 2024 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
(Image credit: Simon Bruty / Anychance / Getty Images)

Soccer fans in Hong Kong continued stewing this week over Argentine superstar Lionel Messi's failure to take the field in an exhibition match his Major League Soccer team, Inter Miami, played last week against a local team. More than 38,000 fans packed the stadium, paying as much as $624 a seat, for a glimpse of the global sports icon's skills, but they spent the game angrily watching him sit on the bench, said the Financial Times. Then Messi declined to present a trophy at a post-match ceremony, deepening the injury to local pride.

Fans booed team co-owner David Beckham after the match. Messi apologized, saying he "regretted" that he had to skip the game due to a "swollen and painful" groin injury, BBC reported. "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," he said. But that didn't soothe the hurt feelings. In fact, the controversy grew this week into something of a diplomatic incident.

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