Messi’s Controversial Bench Role Sparks Backlash and Cancellation of Argentina’s Matches in China

Explore the aftermath of Lionel Messi’s controversial bench role in Hong Kong, triggering a wave of backlash in China. Delve into the canceled matches, social media criticism, and financial repercussions, as the football superstar faces a daunting public relations challenge in one of the world’s key sports markets.

Lionel Messi
Argentina’s star player Lionel Messi.

Chinese authorities have decided to cancel two upcoming football matches featuring Argentina’s national team, citing a growing backlash against star player Lionel Messi.

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The controversy erupted when Messi remained on the bench during a Major League Soccer exhibition game in Hong Kong, despite a sellout crowd of 40,000 fans hoping to see him in action. The disappointment among fans led to booing, jeering, and demands for refunds.

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Despite Messi’s explanation of being sidelined due to injury, criticism continued to mount on Chinese social media platforms. This backlash ultimately prompted sports authorities in Beijing and Hangzhou to call off the friendly matches against Nigeria and Ivory Coast, originally scheduled for March.

The situation has evolved into a significant public relations challenge for Messi, especially in one of the world’s most lucrative sports markets where he previously enjoyed widespread popularity. His failure to take the field in Hong Kong, followed by a brief appearance in a friendly match in Japan, further fueled anger among Chinese fans, some of whom even viewed it as an insult to China.

The repercussions extend beyond Messi’s image, impacting the financial landscape as well. The Hong Kong match organizer, Tatler XFEST, announced it would refund 50% of ticket prices, incurring substantial losses amounting to nearly $5.5 million. This move not only highlights the financial ramifications but also reflects the shattered aspirations of creating an iconic sporting moment in Hong Kong.

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In summary, the cancellation of the matches and the subsequent fallout represent a significant setback for Messi and underscore the complexities of managing public perception in the global sports arena, particularly in lucrative markets like China.

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