Messi’s participation in China matches uncertain as Beijing Football Sports Association denies event plans

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Background picture: Beijing Workers' Sports Complex. Insert picture: Messi.

10th February 2024 – (Beijing) Argentine football maestro Lionel Messi, who recently visited Hong Kong with International Miami, has refused to take the field due to an alleged injury. Following the Hangzhou Bureau Of Sport’s announcement on Friday (9th) regarding the cancellation of Argentina’s friendly matches in Hangzhou next month, the Beijing Football Sports Association has issued a statement on Saturday (10th) in response to fan inquiries about Messi’s potential participation, clarifying that there are currently no plans to hold any matches involving Messi. This announcement follows the cancellation of the Argentine national team’s friendly matches in Hangzhou next month, as disclosed by the Hangzhou Bureau Of Sport on Friday.

According to reports, last month, the Argentine Football Association announced that the national team would have two warm-up matches in China from the 18th to the 26th of next month. The matches were scheduled to take place at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre against Nigeria and at the Beijing Workers’ Sports Complex against Côte d’Ivoire. However, the latest reports suggest that the matches might be relocated from China to the United States due to time constraints and the absence of alternative plans. The upcoming window for international matches in June is crucial for Argentina ahead of the Copa América, and the United States is the host country for this year’s tournament.

The anticipated presence of Messi, the maestro from Inter Miami, in China had generated considerable excitement, but his unforeseen withdrawal from a recent match in Hong Kong due to alleged injury concerns has cast a shadow over his reception among Chinese fans.

The Hangzhou Sports Bureau revealed late Friday that a proposed friendly match involving the Argentina national team was no longer viable. The abrupt nature of the cancellation, attributed to unspecified “well-known reasons,” has left plans for the star’s engagement in the Chinese market in doubt for the short term. Messi’s subsequent participation in a match in Japan only days after the Hong Kong no-show has only intensified fan ire and disappointment, and speculation abounds regarding possible repercussions for his commercial value in China.

The Argentine Football Association, which had previously expressed enthusiasm for the March visit via social media, has yet to formally comment on the cancellation. Argentina was set to face Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire in the cities of Hangzhou and Beijing, respectively, as part of their warm-up campaign ahead of the Copa América.

An official from the Argentine Football Association, speaking to the Association Press, acknowledged awareness of the Hangzhou setback and indicated that talks were underway to find an alternate venue for the match against Nigeria. Whether Beijing will remain on the itinerary sans Messi remains uncertain.

The backlash within China has been palpable, with the Hong Kong sports community vocal in their criticism. Pui Kwan-kay, President of the Hong Kong Football Association, questioned Messi’s sportsmanship and accused him of failing to meet the expectations of his status as a global football figure.

The episode has also prompted Tatler Asia, the organiser of the Hong Kong friendly, to offer a partial refund to ticket holders, recognising the disappointment caused by Messi’s absence.

While the fixture cancellations are a blow to Chinese fans eager to witness the prowess of one of football’s greatest talents, there are broader implications for Messi’s brand in the region. With a lucrative roster of endorsements with Chinese companies at stake, the fallout from this series of events could have long-lasting effects on his commercial partnerships.