Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- New Zealand cancelled a visa for Mike Tyson because of his rape conviction, days after Prime Minister John Key spoke out against the visit by the former heavyweight champion.
Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson said on Wednesday she was also influenced by a charity that would have benefited from his appearance wanting nothing to do with Tyson.
Tyson said he had been looking forward to meeting New Zealand's indigenous Maori, the inspiration for his notorious facial tattoo. But his whole Down Under speaking tour, scheduled for next month, was threatening to fall apart: Australian immigration authorities said they've yet to decide whether to let him in.
Tyson's 1992 rape conviction would normally prevent his entry in New Zealand and could be grounds for denial in Australia as well.
Tyson was to speak at a November event in Auckland, the "Day of the Champions," which is being promoted by Sydney agency Markson Sparks. On Wednesday the agency continued to promote tickets for appearances in New Zealand and five major Australian cities.
Wilkinson said in a statement her approval was "a finely balanced call," but then the Life Education Trust charity withdrew its support on Tuesday.
The charity's chief executive, John O'Connell, however, said it long ago decided not to accept any money from the event due to its concerns over Tyson's character. O'Connell said a volunteer trustee mistakenly sent a letter to immigration authorities supporting Tyson's plans.
Promoter Max Markson said he's continuing to sell tickets - from 69 to 300 Australian dollars ($70 and $310) - and will give refunds if Tyson cannot appear. He said he had been "hoping it might be a smoother run," but remained confident Australia would grant Tyson a visa and that New Zealand would reverse its decision when he found another suitable charity.
"He'll only be in the country for 20 hours, I don't think he's a danger to anybody, and thousands of people want to see him," Markson said.
Would-be visitors to Australia normally must pass a character test. Those who have a "substantial criminal record" - including people who, like Tyson, have been sentenced to more than a year in prison - fail the test. But the department can use its discretion to grant such people visas.
Tyson was sentenced to six years in prison for the 1991 rape of an 18-year-old woman in an Indianapolis hotel room. He served three years before being released on parole.
A spokesman for Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship said, "I can tell you that a decision is still pending" on Tyson's application.
Speaking to the APNZ news agency this week from Las Vegas before his New Zealand visa was cancelled, Tyson said his tattoo was inspired by those worn by Maori. In pre-European times, many Maori wore elaborate facial tattoos as a sign of their status. These days, some Maori who identify strongly with their traditional culture get similar tattoos.
Tyson told the agency that, aside from their tattoos, he knew little about Maori, "so I'm looking forward to come down there and see them."