Source: China State Council Information Office
The Hong Kong government should put in more rigorous preventive and punitive clauses for organizers to keep their side of the deal when sponsoring major events, lawmakers and sports analysts in the city suggested on Monday, after soccer star Lionel Messi didn’t play in a much-anticipated friendly match as planned.
Star soccer player Lionel Messi (center) walks beside the pitch during a friendly match between Inter Miami and a Hong Kong team in Hong Kong on Sunday. [Photo by Andy Chong/China Daily]
On Sunday night, the game between a Hong Kong team and Inter Miami drew some 40,000 sports fans, who were eager to see their idol play at Hong Kong Stadium after hours of waiting to get in. The tickets, ranging from HK$880($113) to HK$4,880, had been quickly snapped up.
Frustrated fans booed the organizer, who touted Messi for the game, and demanded a refund.
Speaking to media about the no-show saga on Monday, the Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said the government, when it was informed by the organizer Tatler Asia 10 minutes before the game finished that Messi would not play, proposed alternatives of having Messi talk to the disappointed fans or receive the trophy on behalf of his team, but these proposals were all rejected.
Before the game, Yeung said the organizer confirmed that Messi would play in the second half of the game. The government swiftly approached the organizer when it noticed that Messi hadn’t appeared as scheduled.
The government agreed to sponsor the event for HK$16 million. According to the sponsorship conditions, Messi was required to play for 45 minutes.
College student Pag Han, 18, spent over HK$4,000 on the game and also the training session a day before Sunday’s match. Han was particularly disappointed when Messi didn’t show up at the friendly match, and felt the organizer had been touting Messi’s appearance as a gimmick even during the match, to fuel anticipation.
“The crowd was unaware that Messi would not be playing, which was clearly false advertising,” Han told China Daily, recalling furious spectators booing the event and shouting “liar”, demanding refunds. Han said Inter Miami, Messi’s team, should take responsibility and provide a sincere response to the fans, many of whom traveled from afar for a chance to see their idol play.
Also at the game, lawmaker Vincent Cheng Wing-shun, a member of the Legislative Council’s panel on Home Affairs, Culture and Sports, expressed dissatisfaction over Messi’s no-show, not even meeting the fans or getting on the stage to give a speech.
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun called the incident “outrageous”, saying it had dealt a heavy blow to Hong Kong’s status as an event capital.
Speaking to China Daily, Tien demanded an explanation from the organizer, asking why Messi can’t come out to say hi or apologize to the fans afterward.
“If Tatler does not refund the spectators, the Hong Kong government should permanently prohibit renting venues to this company as a warning to possible copycats”, Tien added.
Tien said that when signing contracts to sponsor events, the government should make sure that, uncontrollable factors aside, the organizer should make every effort to keep their end of the deal.
Lobo Louie Hung-tak, associate head of the health and physical education department at the Education University of Hong Kong, questioned the explanation given by the organizer for Messi’s no-show, saying muscle inflammation might just be an excuse as Messi did not get an acute injury, and his condition, judging from the fact that he didn’t use crutches and was able to walk freely, was not bad enough to make him unable to enter the field to say hello to the fans.
Apart from the sponsorship, the government said it provided a great deal of assistance for the event, including venue arrangement and crowd management.
By noon on Monday, the city’s consumer watchdog had reported 38 complaints over the saga, with about HK$217,000 involved. Among the complaints, 29 came from local residents and nine from travelers. The highest amount involved in a single case of HK$22,338.
The Consumer Council urged the organizer to make a prompt explanation to the public and reminded all spectators to keep their tickets, receipts or other proof in case of further action.
At a news conference on Monday, Chairman of Tatler Asia Michel Lamuniere announced that the company would withdraw its application for an “M” status for the event, and with it the HK$16 million grant from the government. Lamuniere declined to take questions from the media.