The footballer put in a 30-minute appearance in Tokyo in Inter Miami’s exhibition match days later.
Chinese fans of Lionel Messi are seething after the Argentinian star missed a match in Hong Kong, only to appear on the pitch three days later at a friendly in Japan.
Messi remained on the bench throughout Sunday’s match in Hong Kong against a local team due to a groin injury.
The organiser of the much-hyped game, which was specifically intended to showcase Messi, said it would offer a 50% refund to ticket holders.
The refund announcement comes after days of backlash from angry fans and the government over the absence of the World Cup winner.
The grievances stem from Messi putting in a 30-minute appearance in Tokyo in Inter Miami’s latest exhibition match on Wednesday.
Over the past two days, many social media users in mainland China expressed their disappointment over Messi’s no-show. China’s state-run Global Times newspaper wrote that the impact of the controversy surrounding the football star “has far exceeded the realm of sports”.
In an Instagram post on Friday, local organiser Tatler Asia apologised to those who were disappointed by the match and said it was upset by “the seeming lack of respect shown to the crowd”.
It reiterated it had pleaded with Inter Miami’s management to urge Messi to explain to the spectators why he would not be playing. Under their contract, the football star was required to play for 45 minutes unless injured.
“He didn’t. The fact that Messi … played in Japan on February 7th feels like another slap in the face,” it said.
“We will not escape our responsibility as organisers and that is why Tatler Asia will offer all those who purchased match-day tickets from the official channels a 50 per cent refund,” it said.
Tickets for the game cost up to €578 each. In its statement, Tatler Asia said it would refund €6.6 million in total, resulting in a loss of €5.1 million.
Before the refund, its net income stood at €1.5 million, the organiser said.
Tatler Asia on Monday already said it would withdraw an application for funding from the city government for staging the match.
In response to the announcement, the Hong Kong government welcomed the arrangement in a statement, calling it a responsible move.
However, it said that Hong Kong still has many questions about the incident and hoped Inter Miami could provide a reasonable explanation to the public.
The match in Japan wrapped up Inter Miami’s global promotional tour – stretching from El Salvador to Dallas into Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong and ending in Tokyo.