Beijing has no plans to hold matches in which Lionel Messi will participate: local football association
Published: Feb 10, 2024 12:47 PM
Lionel Messi of Inter Miami reacts during the preseason friendly match between Hong Kong Team and Inter Miami at Hong Kong Stadium on February 4, 2024 in Hong Kong, China. Photo: VCG

Lionel Messi of Inter Miami reacts during the preseason friendly match between Hong Kong Team and Inter Miami at Hong Kong Stadium on February 4, 2024 in Hong Kong, China. Photo: VCG

The Beijing Football Association said on Saturday that the capital does not have plans to hold relevant matches in which Lionel Messi will participate. A friendly match with Argentina national soccer team, originally scheduled to be held in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province in March, was also cancelled due to "well-known reasons," as announced by the Hangzhou Sports Bureau late Friday. 

That means the Argentina soccer star, Messi, is not likely to be welcomed in the Chinese market in the short-term. This follows his controversial absence in Hong Kong, juxtaposed with a vibrant performance in a match in Japan three days later, which triggered growing anger and disappointment among Chinese fans and netizens. Observers warned a potential drastic slump in Messi's commercial value as the aftermath of the event continues to simmer. 

According to the announcement posted by the Hangzhou Sports Bureau late Friday, a company had initiated commercial negotiations with the Argentina national soccer team to hold a friendly match in March. However, the bureau learned from authorities that conditions for holding the competition were immature, leading to the decision to cancel the match.

The Argentina national soccer team has not responded to the cancellation. In January, the team said in a post on China's X-like social media platform Weibo that they would visit China in March. According to the announced fixtures, they were scheduled to play matches against Nigeria and Ivory Coast in Hangzhou and Beijing respectively.

An Argentine Football Association official told the Association Press that they were aware the match was suspended and were seeking another venue to play against Nigeria. It remains unknown whether the Argentina national team will still play in Beijing without Messi. 

Public backlash across the Chinese public toward Messi has been significant following his controversial no-show fiasco in Hong Kong - despite his seemingly high spirits when playing in Japan three days later. 

His absence has also sparked waves of criticism within the Hong Kong sports industry. In a recent interview, president of Hong Kong Football Association, Pui Kwan Kay, criticized Messi for lacking "sports spirit and morality" and for his demeanor as the "king of football."

"Even if he were injured, he should still interact with the sports fans after competition ended. Dissatisfaction could have been easily dispelled if he had just said 'sorry.' But he even didn't make the effort. How do you think the 38,000 fans at the stadium and those watching on TV perceived his actions?" Pui asked.

Tatler Asia, the organizer of the friendly in Hong Kong, said on Friday that it would offer a 50 percent refund to those who purchased tickets through "official channels," according to a statement, adding that details about the refund process will be provided in March.

Industry observers warned that Messi's recent actions could lead to a decline in its commercial value in the Chinese market. Messi is one of the world's most expensive soccer players, coming in at second place in Forbes 2023 List of the World's Highest Paid Athletes. 

Messi has been cooperating with a number of Chinese companies in commercial endorsements, including liquor-maker Chishuihe, logistics provider JT Express and dairy company Mengniu.    

Global Times