Government officials tried their best to get Argentina football legend Lionel Messi to have at least some interaction with fans after he sat out Inter Miami's exhibition match, sports minister Kevin Yeung said on Monday.
Yeung said organisers told officials before kick-off on Sunday that Messi would play in the second half, and it wasn't until half-time at Hong Kong Stadium that they were informed he wouldn't be coming off the bench at all.
The officials then suggested Messi could at least lift the trophy or explain to the thousands of fans there to see him why he hadn't played, but these calls went unheeded, Yeung told reporters.
Inter Miami's head coach Gerardo Martino said after the match that Messi had spent the previous week suffering from muscle inflammation, something that had previously been reported by both local and international media.
Yeung said the government couldn't have known the football legend wouldn't play.
"If you're talking about injury, we couldn't tell well in advance if a particular player could play, unless [the injury was] very serious," Yeung said.
"We'll follow up with [organiser] Tatler Asia, to see when they were aware of Messi's injury and their dealing with the football team. At this stage we couldn't tell for sure the real arrangement between the two parties."
Inter Miami didn't include Messi in the squad in a social media post published before the game.
Asked whether that suggested organisers had misled officials, Yeung reiterated that Tatler had stated the legend would come on in the second half.
The minister confirmed that the government's sponsorship agreement for the event included a clause that Messi would play for at least 45 minutes, unless he was unfit or there were safety concerns.
Yeung said more details regarding what happened with Messi would be needed before a decision is taken as to whether to deduct some of the HK$16 million grant awarded for the match.