Netizens question Messi's third response to HK match controversy
Published: Feb 20, 2024 11:49 AM
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

Amidst a brewing controversy, Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi posted a video on China's X-like social media platform Sina Weibo on Monday night, responding for the third time to his failure to take the field during a match in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), stating that he was "truly unable to play due to injury," triggering heated debate among netizens in the comments section.

In the video, Messi explained that he did not want to miss the game, but had to due to an inflammation of his adductor muscle, and expressed a special affection for Chinese fans, saying he hopes they will meet again soon.

"I heard someone say that I may not want to participate in the competition because of political reasons or many other reasons, but none of this is true. If it were true, I wouldn't even go to Japan, or visit China multiple times like before. From the beginning of my career, I have had a very close and special connection with China," Messi said in the video.

Soccer reporter Li Xuan raised questions about Messi's response, including why Messi was responding again after so many days had already passed since the match. "There is no new information, and Messi had already said the same thing in Japan as well. Is it necessary to respond again in a video? After this video was released, almost instantly, the top comments were all lengthy expressions, with many speaking up for him. Was this prearranged?" Li said.

On February 4, Messi did not play in the match between his club Inter Miami and the Hong Kong celebrity team, but did appear in an exhibition match in Tokyo, Japan, on February 7, which also caused collective dissatisfaction among domestic fans on social media in China.

The Hong Kong Police Force has received at least six reports regarding Messi and has already referred them to the Customs and Excise Department for further investigation, as reported by Hong Kong media. Meanwhile, the Consumer Council of Hong Kong stated that they have received 547 related complaints, involving a total amount of HK$3.64 million ($465,466).

John Lee, the chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), also on Tuesday voiced support for fans' demands for refunds.

Following the video response on Monday, netizens engaged in intense debate in the comments section, with some not buying Messi's explanation, saying that his delayed response was an attempt to salvage the Chinese market, while others understood that injuries are common among athletes.

"If it is really because of injury that he couldn't play, then it is understandable. I hope Messi can show his true strength when he comes to China next time," a fan said. However, some netizens are not buying it, saying that Messi's response video was not of high quality and seemed more like a video edited for marketing purposes for Chinese fans.

The Messi incident indirectly impacted his Chinese sponsors, including the recently signed Chishuihe baijiu liquor.

On January 11, Chishuihe baijiu liquor, endorsed by Messi, launched a signature blessing edition on e-commerce platform, along with a marketing campaign offering Messi-signed jerseys with baijiu purchases. Following the incident, many fans flooded the brand's Sina Weibo account, demanding the brand terminate its contract with Messi.

Currently, Chishuihe baijiu liquor has quietly removed its products from, leaving an empty store. On Sina Weibo, Chishuihe baijiu liquor's official account still has the video with Messi, while other posts related to Messi have been hidden.

According to customer service staff, the products' were taken off the shelves during the Chinese New Year holidays, a decision somewhat influenced by the Messi incident. They mentioned that after making adjustments to the products and related aspects, they will soon be back on the shelves, but whether Messi will continue to be the spokesperson for the brand is unclear.

On February 16, the stock price of JT Express, an express giant with a market value of over HK$100 billion, suddenly plummeted, with the largest drop reaching nearly 26 percent at one point, and still falling by over 12 percent at close. Experts linked the reason for the stock's plunge to Messi endorsing their brand.

Global Times