(CNN) — A Chinese mainland city has canceled its plan to host a soccer match for the Argentine national team amid growing backlash in the country against its star Lionel Messi.
Messi faced a torrent of criticism after he left him on the bench during an exhibition match for his team, Inter Miami, in the American Football League in Hong Kong.
The match in Hong Kong was attended by a crowd of 40,000 people, and many were hoping to see the man considered the best footballer in the world, but the event ended badly when fans booed him and demanded a refund when Messi did not jump onto the pitch. area.
Messi has since stated that he wanted to play, but was unable to do so due to injury. But this did not prevent a torrent of criticism directed at him on the Chinese Internet.
The latest sign of Chinese discontent with Messi came on Friday, when the Hangzhou Sports Bureau said it would no longer organize a friendly match between Argentina and Nigeria that was scheduled to be held at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre.
Without mentioning this saga about a week ago, the Hangzhou Sports Bureau said in a post on the WeChat application that the match was canceled “in light of the reason known to everyone.”
He added, “The conditions for holding the event have not yet matured, and it has been decided to cancel it.”
The Hangzhou match was one of two matches the Argentine team plans to play in China in March.
They are also scheduled to face Ivory Coast at the Workers' Sports Complex in Beijing.
A PR nightmare
Messi was left on the bench when Inter Miami played the Hong Kong side on 4 February, despite repeated requests from the Hong Kong government and the organiser, Tatler Asia, for him to take to the field.
His coach later stated that Messi was injured and that the medical team advised him at the last minute not to play. Messi later said it was a “shame” and that he wanted to participate.
His subsequent 30-minute appearance in a friendly match days later against Vissel Kobe in Japan only served to further anger Chinese fans, with many – including pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong – likening him to insulting China.
Messi faces a public relations nightmare in one of the most lucrative sporting markets in the world, where he has so far enjoyed great popularity.
Hong Kong match organizer Tatler XFEST announced on Friday that it would refund 50% of ticket prices to fans, a move it said would cost the company $7.1 million and cause losses of nearly $5.5 million.
The club said: “Our ambition was to create a special moment to support the government’s efforts to remind the world how important and exciting Hong Kong is. This dream has been shattered for us and for all those who bought tickets to see Messi on the field.” The company that publishes Tatler-branded magazines throughout Asia.
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