What a Messi! Hong Kong disappointed by Messi’s no show in Miami CF’s friendly against local

International Maimi CF arrived in Hong Kong on February 2 2024. Image from HK government via Brandhk twitter outlet.

“Where is Messi?”

“Refund! Refund! Refund!”

Around 40,000 angry football fans chanted at the Hong Kong Stadium as football superstar Lionel Messi sat on the bench during the entire game of a friendly match between Miami CF and the Hong Kong team on February 4, 2024. 

The expectation of seeing superstar Messi running on the city’s football pitch had been boiling for over two months after the Hong Kong government issued a total of HKD 16 million cheque near the end of November 2023 to the organizer Tatler Asia for organizing an exhibition match with International Miami CF in order to rebrand Hong Kong as an international mega event hub and lift the residents’ spirits. 

Since Miami CF announced its Asia tour and its Hong Kong trip on December 8, Messi mania has swept Hong Kong.

Approximately 40,000 tickets for the match were sold out within one hour even though the ticket price tag was costly, ranging from HKD 880 (USD 113) to HKD 4,880 (USD 625). Messi’s pink number 10 jersey has become a best-selling item in the city, and his face was splashed everywhere:

While rumors were circulating that Messi might not take part in Hong Kong’s game due to his hamstring injury after Miami CF’s friendly match at Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia on February 1, the event organizer Tatler Asia assured that he would show up on the pitch hours before the match began on February 4. 

Then, it turned out that, during the 90-minute match, the World Cup-winning captain only sat on the bench, watching his team’s 4–1 friendly win. 

Messi's no-show caught the 40,000 football fans by surprise, and they started chanting “We want Messi” around halfway through the second half, and the booing became louder during the last 10 minutes. Both Miami co-owner David Beckham and Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee were greeted by booing fans as they entered the pitch at the end of the match:

In a post-match press conference, Miami CF's coach Gerardo Martino explained that Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez were deemed unfit to play by their team’s medical department.

On social media, many Hongkongers slammed the football exhibition as the “scam of the century” and questioned the Hong Kong government’s sponsorship decision.

In response, the HK authorities issued two statements stressing that they were “extremely disappointed” by Messi’s no-show and would consider cutting the funding. 

On February 5, Secretary for Culture, Sports, and Tourism Kevin Yeung explained that the government expected Messi to play in the match:

Whether or not the government will cut the funding is not a major concern. The “scam” has harmed Hong Kong’s reputation as many who travelled to Hong Kong on purpose to watch Messi felt that they were cheated:

Many have expressed disappointment with the government’s marketing strategy, even among the pro-establishment. Lawmaker Kong Yuk Foon wrote on her Facebook: 



I believe many football fans were extremely disappointed, particularly those who travelled to Hong Kong for the show or paid extra money for the tickets. How could we earn back the tourists’ trust in us? Does the contract make it obligatory for the superstars to play in the match?

Looking at the massive publicity presented by the HK Tourism Board and reports on the event, there were so many overstatements and promises that could not be delivered. If the football stars did not even touch the ball, how could you tell people they came here to show their skills…They will be playing in Tokyo in a few days, and from the Viagogo website, the tickets are cheaper than ours, so I wonder if the stars will show up on the pitch there.

Commentary on ReNew, an online news outlet, pointed out that the “scam” was related to the government's political investment in commercially driven mega-events: 

權力方實在太渴望這種「香港仍然得」的畫面,將所有事推到整個城市的榮辱興衰都和美斯雙腳息息相關的程度,結果美斯這一傷亦一腳將香港踢入十八層地獄。事事講政治,將太多場外價值加諸在商業行為之上,結果被一場以商業利益為本(波飛貴、食水深、受傷/唔夠錢就不上陣,連 KFC 都賣五嚿水)的「盛事」一鑊翹起,只是剛剛好。

The authorities are too desperate to present the image of “Hong Kong still gets it.” And hence, in their publicity, they connected the glory of the city to Messi’s presence. Now that Messi’s injured leg has brought down Hong Kong. When everything is political, and too much off-course value is put on commercial behavior, the result is a total mess as the organization of the “grand event” is ultimately based on commercial interests (expensive tickets, over-priced agent fee, injuries/no game if you don't have enough money, even a KFC chicken set was sold at a price of HKD 500 plus).

Indeed, as the Hong Kong government attempted to use the superstars’ presence to rebrand Hong Kong, Messi’s no-show has been interpreted as a “soft resistance” — an act that defies the government authorities — and inspired many political spoofs. Hong Kong’s exiled political cartoonist Ah To imagined a conversation between Messi and a member of Hong Kong’s “rebuttal team” who kept asking questions: “You don’t give me face? Is this soft resistance? Are you inciting hate against the government? You are lucky! We haven’t passed the Article 23 yet…”

Hong Kong kickstarted the legislation of the homegrown national security law in January 2024 by setting up rebuttal teams to argue for the necessity of more laws to safeguard national security. Some of the laws target speech-related soft resistance.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.