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Editorial:Lionel Messi's No-show Provokes Outcry

【明報專訊】Top footballer Lionel Messi sat out the exhibition match between Hong Kong Team and Inter Miami. He made no remarks after the match, nor did he receive the trophy. The stadium rang with shouts of ''refund'' from fans.

When Inter Miami arrived in Hong Kong last Friday, reporters asked whether Messi would miss the game due to injury. The team's head coach Gerardo Martino said that Messi's condition still needed to be evaluated. On Saturday, the team had a training session at Hong Kong Stadium. Though Messi did not join the practice match, he did some jogging and passes with his teammates. Club co-owner David Beckham also spoke at the stadium, saying that Inter Miami was a special club with special players, and tomorrow's game would be very special.

Yesterday (5 February), the organiser said that in the official team sheet submitted and signed off by the team coach before Sunday's game, Messi had been included in the substitute list as being fit to play. The organiser announced the visiting team's lineup accordingly. Every statement made by the club and the organiser prior to the game had fueled the public's reasonable expectations for Messi's participation. Such high expectations ultimately morphed into deep disappointment.

No doubt it is not uncommon for players to miss a game due to injury. However, exhibition games are never highly competitive. Had Messi come off the bench and merely ''sauntered'' around the pitch for just a few minutes, fans able to get a glimpse of the panache of the G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) of football would have been satisfied. In this friendly match between Inter Miami and the Hong Kong team, tickets were sold for as high as $4,880. Throughout its promotional campaign, the organiser marketed the match as one featuring Messi. More than 38,000 fans were gathered at the stadium because of him. Had it not been for Messi, not so many people might have spent thousands of dollars to scramble for a ticket.

The public has certainly been left dumbfounded by Messi's no-show. Equally perplexing was his failure to address the fans himself. According to the Hong Kong government, it immediately contacted the organiser when it noticed Messi still not playing at the start of the second half, requesting the Inter Miami management to arrange for Messi to enter the pitch as soon as possible. After this failed, it demanded that the organiser take ''remedial measures'', including asking whether it could arrange for Messi to explain to the fans in person or receive the trophy on behalf of the team. That did not happen either. Messi is a worldly footballer and has endorsed many products in the past. It is hard to imagine that he would have no understanding of public relations.

In this visit to Hong Kong, Messi did not play in the friendly match, did not receive the trophy and did not speak publicly before and after the match, which is quite unusual in itself. Did he say no to offering an explanation in person, or did he simply not know that the Hong Kong government had made such a request? At the moment there is only one side of the story. Furthermore, at one point the Hong Kong government had put forward other demands, for example, requesting Messi and other players to attend a Victoria Harbour event. It is noteworthy whether this had led to pecuniary disagreements.

Messi's no-show has caught the city in a whirlpool of emotions. The organiser has a responsibility to address questions from the public in detail instead of simply reading out a statement and not taking any questions as it did yesterday. As for the government, it has a duty to explain clearly whether it has played the role of gatekeeper adequately in the matter. It must not let the incident end up an unsolved mystery.

明報社評 2024.02.06:美斯缺陣滿城風雨 追究責任弄清疑團

香港隊對國際邁阿密表演賽,球王美斯沒有上陣、沒有發言、也沒有領獎,球迷大呼「回水」。

球隊上周五抵港,記者問及美斯會否因傷錯過賽事,主教練馬天奴稱美斯情况仍需評估;球隊周六在大球場操練,美斯沒有踢分隊賽,但亦有在場緩跑和跟隊友「搓波」,班主碧咸還在現場發表講話,表示國際邁亞密是一間特別球會,有特別的球員,「明日的球賽會非常特別」。

主辦方昨天表示,周日比賽前,球隊主帥提交簽署的官方球隊名單上,美斯有列入後備名單,表示適合上場,主辦方亦按此公布客隊陣容。球會和主辦方賽前每一次說法,都加深了公眾對美斯上陣的合理期望,結果卻是期望愈大,失望愈大。

誠然,球員因傷缺陣並非什麼稀奇事,但表演賽並非競爭激烈賽事,哪怕只是落場數分鐘「行行企企」,能夠一睹球王風采,相信很多球迷都已「收貨」。國際邁阿密這次訪港友賽,門票價錢最貴4880元,主辦方由始至終都以美斯為「生招牌」,逾3.8萬名球迷慕名而來,若沒有美斯,恐怕很多人都不會破費數千元撲飛。

美斯缺陣,公眾固然有疑惑;美斯為何不向球迷親自解釋,亦令人奇怪。根據港府說法,「下半場開始」發現美斯仍未出場後,港府馬上與主辦方跟進,要求國際邁阿密管理層盡快安排美斯落場無果後,再要求主辦方採取「補救措施」,包括可否安排美斯親自向球迷交代,或由美斯接受獎盃等,但同樣未能成事。美斯見慣大場面,也做過很多商品的代言人,難以想像他不諳公關之道。

美斯這次訪港,不僅沒有上陣、沒有領獎,賽前賽後也沒有公開發言,本身就不太尋常;究竟他是「拒絕」親自解釋,還是根本不知道港府有此要求,目前也只有一面之詞。另外,港府一度希望追加多項要求,例如希望美斯等球星出席維港「打卡」活動,有否引發金錢利益爭拗,同樣值得關注。

美斯缺陣鬧得滿城風雨,主辦方有責任詳細回應外界疑問,而不是像昨天那樣簡單宣讀聲明,不接受任何提問;政府則有責任說清楚,當局在事件中有否把關,更不能讓事件以羅生門作結。

■/ Glossary 生字 /

sit out:to not take part in a dance, game or other activity

panache/pəˈnæʃ/:the quality of being able to do things in a confident and elegant way that other people find attractive

dumbfounded /dʌmˈfaʊndɪd/:unable to speak because of surprise

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