Football fans who bought tickets to watch Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain in action against Singapore on Tuesday night (June 13) will not be able to seek refunds now that the two football stars have withdrawn from the international friendly.
In response to queries from TODAY, match promoters UNICESS Sports Group said that no refunds or forms of compensation will be provided, even though Messi and Higuain were the players that were heavily promoted as the star attractions of the game, which is selling tickets at S$40, S$78, S$138, S$188.
UNICESS said that while the selection of the Argentina squad was out of its control, the Asia-based sports match tour promoter believes that “football fans will understand” because the world No 2-ranked side that will face the Lions at the National Stadium will still feature several other top stars.
“While UNICESS and the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) share the disappointment of football fans at the absence of these players, there is not a requirement to refund tickets,” the company said.
“Argentina have selected a…squad that continues to feature world-class players such as Angel Di Maria, Paulo Dybala and Sergio Romero and we look forward to what will still be a highly entertaining match.
“We have no control over the squad that is brought to represent Argentina. This is the Argentine Football Association’s (AFA) role and the players that actually play in game is made official by the head coach only just before the game. We believe football fans will understand.”
UNICESS also pinned the blame on the AFA, saying that it only confirmed the withdrawals of Messi, Higuain and Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi on Saturday evening (June 10), and added that it was the AFA who provided UNICESS with the images and videos of Messi to be used for marketing purposes.
However, Argentina newspaper Clarin first broke the news last Thursday (June 8) that Messi and Otamendi would be leaving the Argentina squad after the team’s international friendly against Brazil in Melbourne on Friday (June 9).
Argentina head coach Jorge Sampaoli then also said at a press conference in Melbourne last Thursday that “it was already planned” that Messi and Otamendi would leave after the Brazil game.
While Messi did arrive in Singapore with the Argentina squad on Saturday, and took the team bus to the Fullerton Hotel, the Barcelona striker returned to Changi Airport a few hours later to take a flight out of the country.
Significantly, after promoting the match together for the past few weeks, UNICESS issued the media statement on the players’ withdrawals at around 11pm on Saturday night alone, without the FAS.
In response to queries from TODAY, the FAS, the official sanctioning body of the game, said it had discussed the issue of refunds with UNICESS in the wake of the player withdrawals. However, it said that the decision on whether to provide refunds would be taken solely by UNICESS.
“As they are the match promoter, (the) commercial decisions are made by them,” an FAS spokesman said.
“That said, we do understand the fans’ frustrations and the difficult situation UNICESS has been put in by the late withdrawals. It is not easy for them to find a satisfactory outcome as such matches are extremely expensive to put together.
“When they (UNICESS) started promoting the match weeks ago, they sincerely believed that the players would be participating in the match.
“Nonetheless, we hope that football fans are still excited to see one of the best teams in the world take on our boys in what is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Local football fan Nathaniel Lee, 35, however told TODAY that while he understood UNICESS may not be blamed for the withdrawal, he had hoped they would have at least provided some form of compensation for the fans.
Said the operations manager: “It would have been nice if they could provide some form of compensation. After all, we were promised something and they ultimately did not deliver on their promise.
“While I can empathise with them (UNICESS), they should also spare a thought for the fans who bought tickets thinking they were going to watch Messi, Higuain and even (Sergio) Aguero, who was in the promotional poster as well.”
But some others were less forgiving on UNICESS’ Facebook page.
Facebook user Mushroomhead Illo wrote: “Dear Unicess Sports Group, Messi has already left our little red dot.
“Please offer no more excuses, take responsibility and do the honourable thing of giving the fans, who have put their trust in you and bought the tickets according to what you’ve advertised, their full refund. Thank you.”
Aloysius Lin added: “Thought I can witness one of the greatest players in action, but turns out is the greatest con job in action.”
Jas Singh wrote on TODAY Sports’ Facebook page: “This is a good wake-up call to never buy into the hype from end-of-season tours.”
UNICESS told TODAY that over 20,000 tickets to the match has been sold so far, and that it remains confident that ticket sales will continue to increase over the next two days. The National Stadium’s capacity is 55,000.
Said UNICESS: “Ticket sales have remained buoyant, and we expect ticket sales to steadily increase over the next two days.
“We are confident that football fans in Singapore will still want to come and support the Lions as they go up against a truly world-class team in Argentina.”