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Why was Messi booed in Hong Kong?

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Why was Messi booed in Hong Kong?

The Hong Kong fans booed the Argentine and a sort of diplomatic case arose.

Over the past few weeks, Inter Miami – the team of Messi, Suárez, Busquets and Jordi Alba – has crossed Asia for a series of friendly (and promotional) matches against the best local teams. As you may have read around, the first stop on the tour was Saudi Arabiawhere Miami was defeated 6-0 against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr (absent due to physical problems) thanks to a hat-trick from Talisca, a beautiful goal from a free kick from beyond the midfield line by Laporte and goals by Otavio and Mohamed Maran. The second match was played in Hong Kong against a representative of the local championship – easily won 4-1 by the Americans – e the third in Tokyo against the Japanese champions Vissel Kobe, the team where Andrés Iniesta played until last season. After the Asian tour of pink flamingosMessi was supposed to play not only in Hong Kong but also two matches in China, no longer with the pink shirt but with the currency albiceleste.

The first against Nigeria in Hangzhou and the second against Ivory Coast in Beijing. All this to remedy what happened in November, when the friendly matches ofInter Miami on Chinese soil were cancelled due to “unexpected circumstances” (officially the death of Prime Minister Li Keqiang). However, after the match in Hong Kong, Messi will not go in Chinese not even this time, but not due to the pandemic or the sudden death of some important institutional figure.

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The two matches in China were canceled (with all due respect to the two African Cup finalists, true innocent victims of the issue) due to a commercial disaster to be attributed to Inter Miami and to Tatler Asia – organizer of the event – in the friendly match in Hong Kong, a far more serious commercial disaster than the brutal defeat against Al Nassr in Riyadh.

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On February 4, on the occasion of the friendly match against Inter Miami, around forty thousand fans filled the Hong Kong Stadium to the last available seat – paying for tickets that went up to €600 for seats in the stands – mainly for one reason: to see the best player in contemporary football play with their own eyes – and probably for the only time in their lives: Lionel Messi. Certainly no one, not even the most optimistic, expected to see one of his most enlightened matches. We also knew he wouldn’t play ninety minutes. A few dozen minutes, however, a few flashes of class, a lap of the pitch and a greeting to the public, however, would perhaps have been enough to satisfy the public’s thirst. Messi, however, never entered the pitch due to adductor discomfort. He didn’t even allow a small warm-up show, a few pre- or post-match dribbles, or a lap of the pitch to greet the crowd. Nothing.

The Hongkongers, and not just those present in the stadium who flooded it with boos shouting “Wui seoi! Wui seoi!” (literally: “Refund! Refund!”), they didn’t take it well at all. Nor did, as we have seen, the local and Chinese government authorities. On the other hand, the promotion of the event had completely different premises than the sporting event itself. Tatler Asia had called the meeting “more than a football match”but a two-day festival – called Tatler XFEST – would bring together sports and entertainment for raise Hong Kong’s status as a world city in Asia” and, although his presence was never guaranteed, the entire graphic component of the XFEST campaign was obviously centered around Lionel Messi.

The matter became further aggravated three days later, when – in the third and last friendly match of the tour, played in Tokyo – Suaréz, Busquets and Jordi Alba played from the first minute while the number Ten Argentinian entered in the 60th minute playing forty minutes, extra time and penalties. According to what he himself said in the press conference, obviously, Messi has nothing against Hong Kong and hopes to return there as soon as possible but in the match in Arabia he felt some discomfort and didn’t feel like risking a more serious injury. Three days later, however, he felt the problem had been overcome and therefore decided to take to the field. Nothing strange.

However, as we have said, Hong Kong and Beijing have not placidly accepted the apologies, but, on the contrary, they reacted quite vehementlyalso given the economic efforts aimed at making Hong Kong once again a center of world entertainment after years of pandemic restrictions and beyond (in the last year, for example, Taylor Swifti Coldplay e Harry Styles they did not perform in Hong Kong, but did so in rivals Singapore and Tokyo). Last Wednesday, after the penalty shootout win against Vissel Kobe, a editorial of the Chinese state tabloid Global Times stated that the explanation for the injury was “not very convincing” is that “The impact of this incident went far beyond the realm of sport”.

According to Sam Goodman, Senior Policy Director at the China Strategic Risks Institute and consultant to Hong Kong Watch (a think tank independent hit hard by new legg on national security) these major international events are nothing more than theyet another form of sportwashingthat is, a way to distract the population and, above all, the world, from the fact that China is essentially erasing any residual freedom and incorporating the city-state into its system of power.

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Consequently, any event that in any way could damage the reputation or slow down the clean-up operation is perceived by Beijing as an anti-Chinese political move. Effectively, David Beckham has been heavily criticized by pro-Hong Kong activists for choosing to play this friendly match. At the same time, it remains difficult to think that Lionel Messi – a person who has stipulated a multi-million dollar deal with the bloody Saudi regime and who happily bowed to the Qatari pranks – gave up playing out of political scruple.

At the same time, the roars from the public were also, almost certainly, more sincere than China would have us believe. Those forty thousand people were actually there to see a demi-deity play of football, their idol, the one that every fan would like to see at least once a few meters away. They had really been deceived – perhaps unintentionally – by the advertisements and were really deeply disappointed not only or not so much by his absence, but by the total lack of empathy towards who he was only for him.

From this mess, which may seem uninteresting, however, very important questions arise for the future of football and beyond. What is the line between sports and entertainment? What are the “duties” that an athlete has towards the public? Who are we, spectators or fans? How should the big clubs and champions behave towards regimes that are so powerful, so rich, so “irritable”? This short article on Messi’s events in Hong Kong does not claim to find, nor even tangentially address, the answers to the questions above. All he intends to do – in a small way – is to try to stimulate critical reflection on the game we love most.

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P.s.: after the publication of this article on Catenaccio, the Messi-China issue has further evolved. The eight-time Golden Ball winner found himself forced (by circumstances) to publish an apology video – a little awkwardly – on Weibo, the main Chinese social network, where he tried to clarify his position. Messi explains about do not prefer Japan to Chinaindeed that he has “always had a very close relationship” with Beijing, where he has participated in events, willingly given interviews and played friendly matches with both Barcelona and the Argentina national team.

This article originally appeared in Catenaccio, Sportellate’s newsletter. To receive Catenaccio for free or read back issues, you can click Who.

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