A political ruckus has broken out over Mike Tyson's ban on traveling to New Zealand, with the country's government coming under fire for refusing to grant the former boxing champion a visa.
Tyson's request to enter the country to headline the "Day of Champions," a series of motivational speeches, was turned down due to his 1992 conviction for raping beauty pageant contestant Desiree Washington, even though he was initially granted an exemption.
But while protests from feminists spurred the decision to keep Tyson out, several notable New Zealand sports and cultural figures have criticized the ban, insisting he is a reformed character who deserves a second chance.
In a conversation with Yahoo! Sports, boxing trainer and former Olympic silver medalist Kevin Barry hit out at the politicians.
"It would have been a great opportunity for New Zealand boxing and the country as a whole," said Barry, who is now based in Las Vegas. "Tyson is a fascinating character and he is an example of how someone can fall to absolutely rock bottom, as far as you can go, and still bounce back from it. He was one of the most recognizable men on the planet and became the ultimate villain.
"People should respect the effort it has taken to rebuild his life, but sadly some people – and some politicians – just can't see that. Boxing in New Zealand is growing quickly right now, and he could have inspired some young people who want to succeed or have had trouble in their life.
"Unfortunately, we are a country that sometimes goes overboard on political correctness at the expense of common sense, and that is part of the reason why I moved away."
Tyson's headlining speech at the Day of Champions would be an extension of his one-man Broadway show, "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth," an unconventional biopic directed by Spike Lee that began in August. Met with critical acclaim, the show offers what is at times a brutally frank recap of his tumultuous ride through fame and disaster.
The recent surge in popularity of boxing in New Zealand led a promotional company to book him to appear in Auckland's Vector Arena on November 16. But the show met a roadblock as the country generally forbids offenders convicted of certain offenses from obtaining a visa.
Exceptions can be made though, and it was thought that Tyson would eventually be given the opportunity to perform his show, then leave for Australia 24 hours later.
Tyson was even confident enough to say publicly that he was going to New Zealand and "there is nothing they can do about it." That was before the matter took a final unexpected twist. School teacher and part-time writer Juliana Venning complained to a leading New Zealand charity Life Education Trust after learning that a letter of support from the trust was a major reason why Tyson had initially been given approval to visit the nation.
After an internal investigation, it emerged that the letter submitted to the New Zealand immigration authorities had been written by a male volunteer and was not validated by the trust's hierarchy.
Immigration minister Kate Wilkinson subsequently rescinded her approval, shutting out Tyson, although the event's promoters have vowed to fight on.
"Here we have a person who has had a career path of disaster, who is a sad and sorry individual," Venning told the New Zealand Herald after learning that her letter had sparked the chain of events that effectively banned Tyson. "[He] is wanting to come into our country pretty much under false pretenses."
With Australia having similar immigration laws to its close neighbor, Tyson may also face difficulties in fulfilling a series of shows planned there in November.
He is expected to begin filming the third edition in The Hangover series next year.
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