Messi clarifies Hong Kong no-show on 4th February in belated video message on Weibo

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Lionel Messi

20th February 2024 – (Hong Kong) In a belated effort to quell the furore over his non-appearance at a Hong Kong football event, Lionel Messi, the luminary of Inter Miami, has taken to the Chinese social media platform Weibo to issue a personal video explanation, following up on a textual clarification disseminated a fortnight prior. Yet, the move comes amidst a climate where the initial damage to his reputation and diplomatic relations may prove resistant to repair.

Messi’s nonattendance at the 4th February fixture between Inter Miami and a Hong Kong select squad instigated fervent criticism, compelling Chinese officials to cancel forthcoming fixtures featuring Argentina’s national team—a stark indication of the incident’s repercussions.

The Argentine’s participation as a substitute in a subsequent match in Tokyo only inflamed sentiments. Doubts over the authenticity of his rapid recovery post-Hong Kong culminated in the viral “medical miracle” hashtag, a clear jab at the football star’s credibility.

Accusations of disrespect towards Hong Kong and broader Chinese sensibilities proliferated, with state media joining in the censure, casting aspersions on both Messi’s motives and the organisational competency of the match hosts.

Monday’s video saw Messi repudiate any political underpinnings to his absence, attributing it instead to an aggravated adductor injury. The post swiftly ascended Weibo’s search rankings, amassing an impressive array of comments and likes, indicative of the star’s enduring popularity. Nevertheless, a vocal minority persists in their scepticism, hinting at a perceived desire to safeguard his standing in the valuable Chinese market.

The footballer’s discourse was laced with affirmations of his affinity for China, a gesture that, while warm, may arrive too late to fully mend the frayed ties. The negative reception of his initial statement, together with revelations of its Sichuan-based IP address—miles from his Tokyo location—has fuelled online mockery, spotlighting the pitfalls of China’s social media landscape for international figures.

This episode is emblematic of the rapidity with which brands and celebrities can find themselves at odds with China’s particularly nationalistic online community, potentially incurring significant commercial consequences. In the wake of escalating public and official indignation, Hong Kong’s match organiser, Tatler Asia has been compelled to offer a 50% refund to ticket holders.