Anger brews over Hong Kong’s Messigate

Event organisers Tatler Asia at centre of storm as Lionel Messi leaves fans furious with government wanting answers about compensation and what was behind Inter Miami fiasco

THE EVENT organiser at the centre of a public relations storm following superstar footballer Lionel Messi’s absence from the field at a much-hyped match in Hong Kong is under pressure to reveal more.

Tatler Asia’s CEO, Michel Lamunière, issued a public apology this week. The society magazine publisher also withdrew an application for a total of HK$16 million in government funding made on behalf of Tatler XFEST Hong Kong to promote Sunday’s game between Inter Miami and a Hong Kong team. 

Hong Kong chief executive John Lee said the organisers should respond to calls for compensation from football fans after Messi stayed on the substitutes’ bench due to an injury and did not seem to respond to requests by officials to lift the cup at the end of the game. Messi and other stars were the focus of pre-match publicity with the event highlighted by Brand Hong Kong and government officials as an international public relations boost.

Messi’s inactivity triggered fury among the 40,000 fans at Hong Kong Stadium who jeered Inter-Miami co-owner David Beckham as he appeared on the pitch at full-time for the cup presentation in the presence of top officials including John Lee.

Controversy continues to rage as Messi last night played the last 30 minutes of a match in Kobe, Japan, three days after the Hong Kong debacle. Though officials and commentators in Hong Kong are levelling the blame at Messi and Tatler XFEST, questions remain about the mandate granted by government agencies to an organiser with no known background in large sporting events.

Inter Miami had reportedly been under contract to play in Hong Kong with Messi and two other stars to play a minimum of 40 minutes, according to reports. It has also been reported that arrangements were being made for well-heeled football fans to pay a six-figure sum to meet the Argentine star for autographs.

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Football fans have been contacting Hong Kong’s Consumer Council for advice on claiming compensation for tickets that cost up to HK$4,000. The city’s ombudsman has also been asked to investigate while MIX understands that at least one event company sub-contracted by the main organiser is worried about payments.

The event had “M-mark” status as part of Hong Kong’s drive to attract mega-events to the city to offset negative overseas publicity in the wake of pandemic restrictions and the imposition of national security laws. The HK$16m (US$2m) grant would have included $1m from the government’s Major Sports Events Committee for hiring the stadium.

“In promoting this event, the government did a lot of work to coordinate and provide assistance to the organiser to strive for the best possible outcome,” said John Lee, the Hong Kong SAR Government chief executive.  

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“The performance of the organiser has an impact on Hong Kong’s image and reputation. The government also has the responsibility to ensure public funding is spent appropriately, especially when such event is sponsored by the government.”

Tatler Asia had previously worked with Hong Kong Tourism Board and Brand Hong Kong as part of an “innovation festival” with a conference championing youth leadership across Web3, AI, technology, arts culture, sports and F&B among other fields. The Tatler Gen.T Summit was held at the M+ contemporary arts museum at West Kowloon Cultural District.

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