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West's 'nationalism' fuss nothing but an air kick

By LI YANG | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-21 08:30

Inter Miami's Lionel Messi arrives at the Hong Kong International Airport for the soccer club's first international tour, in Hong Kong, China February 2, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

The video clip Lionel Messi uploaded on social media on Monday explaining his absence from an exhibition game between Inter Miami, the US club he plays for, and a local team in Hong Kong on Feb 4 should help to draw a line under the incident.

In the two-minute video posted on his China microblog account, the Argentinian soccer star attributed his no-show in Hong Kong to an inflamed adductor muscle that had worsened the day before the game. He denied that his absence was due to "political reasons", which he described as "false stories". After that he highlighted his "close and special relations with China", a country he has visited many times, and expressed his appreciation for the Chinese people's affection for him and his anticipation that he will visit China again soon.

The disappointment, if not anger, that arose as a result of Messi's absence in the Hong Kong match was largely caused by the lack of transparency from the organizer of the match, Tatler XFEST.

Although no details of the contract have been even made available, Tatler XFEST should have been well aware whether Messi would play in the game or not and for how long and whether he would make a nonplaying appearance if injured, as these commercial contracts often strictly stipulate such conditions.

The strong reaction of fans to Messi's absence proved that the company's advertising for the game had given them the false impression that their idol's presence at the match was a certainty. That they asked for a refund of the ticket price is also a testimony to the fact that the tickets were bought on the premise they would get to see Messi.

Messi was absent for an exhibition match in Saudi Arabia a few days before the match in Hong Kong for the same reason, which the Hong Kong organizer must have known about. The public relations disaster could have been averted had the company been transparent about the situation from the very beginning.

As such, that some Western media outlets simply tried to attribute the backlash sparked by Messi's no-show in the Hong Kong game to "the rise of nationalism" in China does not make any sense.

It is even absurd that some Western media organizations went further to try and drive a wedge between China and Argentina in their culture and sport cooperation, ignoring the fact that it was a US club that appeared in the match in Hong Kong.

China actually has a large body of soccer fans supporting Argentina. The tremendous success of the friendly match between Argentina and Australia in Beijing in June speaks volumes of the great potential of bilateral cooperation in people-to-people exchanges. Even the Australian side joked the Workers' Stadium of Beijing hosting that match was like a "home ground" for its opponent as the stand turned out to be a sea of blue and white.

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