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Anger in Hong Kong and China over Messi’s return to Tokyo, says Radio Free Asia

Criticism from Chinese state media and Hong Kong politicians has been sparked by Lionel Messi’s decision to play in a match in Tokyo just three days after sitting out a highly-anticipated game in Hong Kong due to a groin injury. Chinese government adviser Regina Ip and state-backed newspapers like Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao have been vocal in criticizing Messi. Ip called for Messi to be banned from returning to Hong Kong, while state-backed media speculated that there was a mastermind behind Messi’s no-show in Hong Kong. The Global Times demanded an explanation from Messi, and Chinese footballer Xu Zexin claimed that the Chinese Football Association had suspended cooperation with the Argentinian Football Association over the incident.

Messi apologized to fans in a post on Chinese social media platform Weibo, but China’s Global Times said this was not enough. The paper suggested that Messi’s playing in Tokyo could jeopardize a scheduled fixture between China and Argentina. Furthermore, Hong Kong officials demanded an explanation from match organizers and have withdrawn an application for a government grant related to the match. Joseph Ngan, a former assistant controller at Hong Kong’s i-CABLE News, criticized the government for mishandling the arrangements for the match.

Hong Kong officials have expressed disappointment over Messi’s inability to play due to injury but pointed out that he played actively in a similar match against Japan’s Vissel Kobe in Tokyo three days later. Comments on Reddit suggested that Messi’s actions in Hong Kong could have been politically motivated, but others pointed out that it was natural for Messi not to receive post-match medals, as he did not actually play. Hong Kong commentator Sang Pu said it was possible that Messi’s actions were politically motivated, pointing to his attempts to send a signed photo to Liu Xia, wife of late Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, while she was under house arrest in Beijing.


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