Messi Hong Kong no-show sparks wave of outrage in China

February 09, 2024 / 10:32 AM
Sharjah24 - AFP: Online indignation in Hong Kong and mainland China has surged in response to Lionel Messi's cancellation from a match; the football star is being accused of trying to humiliate Beijing or even of participating in a diabolical foreign plan.
The Argentine ace and his team Inter Miami sparked fury in Hong Kong from fans on Sunday when he did not play in a friendly, citing injury.

Enthusiasts who had splashed upwards of 4,800 Hong Kong dollars ($500) to see Messi chanted "Refund!", gave thumbs-down signs and drowned out the team's co-owner David Beckham with jeers as he tried to thank the crowd.

Just days later, however, he played 30 minutes of a friendly match in Japan -- causing outrage and accusations that he had singled out China.

The outcry led influential nationalist tabloid Global Times to suggest that sinister foreign forces had conspired to hurt the city's reputation.

"One theory is that (Messi's) actions have political motives, as Hong Kong intends to boost [the] economy through the event and external forces deliberately wanted to embarrass Hong Kong through this incident," it said.

"Judging from the development of the situation, the possibility of this speculation cannot be ruled out."

The Hong Kong government has demanded an explanation from the match's organisers, who had sought public funding for the event, and said that they had been repeatedly assured Messi would play.

The Argentine player has said it was "bad luck" that he couldn't play and that he hopes to return to the city.

But top Hong Kong government advisor Regina Ip has fumed that Messi should "never be allowed to return".

"Hong Kong people hate Messi, Inter-Miami, and the black hand behind them, for the deliberate and calculated snub to Hong Kong," Ip said on social media platform X, deploying a phrase commonly used by the city's officials to allege sinister foreign interference.

"His lies and hypocrisy are disgusting," she said.

On the mainland, Messi's non-appearance has trended on the X-like Weibo platform all week.

A post by the footballer expressing regret for not being able to play was inundated with mocking comments and memes.

Some featured Messi as an Imperial Japanese soldier -- a reference to his alleged preference for the country over China.

"Messi is very rude and arrogant, which is really annoying," one user wrote.

Reflecting the sore feelings, Hong Kong actress Samantha Ko Hoi-ling was also forced to apologise on the platform after she told local media in the city that she "understood" his decision to skip the game.

But some suggested the reaction was overblown.

"Do we really need to turn it into a struggle session?" wrote one Weibo user in a reference to China's bloody Cultural Revolution, when alleged enemies of leader Mao Zedong were forced into public confessions.

Hu Xijin, a prominent nationalist commentator, wrote that criticism should be "measured so as not to elevate his status".

"As if a single careless manifestation of his could touch our great nation and hurt the feelings of our entire society."
February 09, 2024 / 10:32 AM

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