WELLINGTON, New Zealand - In a reversal, New Zealand authorities on Wednesday barred Mike Tyson from entering the country whose indigenous Maori people Tyson says inspired his facial tattoo.
And a Downunder speaking tour for the former heavyweight boxing champion was threatening to fall apart altogether as Australian immigration authorities said they've yet to decide whether to allow him into that country. Tickets for appearances in New Zealand and five major Australian cities in November are still being promoted by a Sydney agency.
Tyson's 1992 rape conviction would normally prevent his entry in New Zealand and could be grounds for denial in Australia as well. He had been granted an exemption for New Zealand before that visa was cancelled Wednesday, days after the prime minister spoke out against the visit.
Tyson was to speak at a November event in Auckland, the "Day of the Champions," which is being promoted by Sydney agency Markson Sparks!
New Zealand's Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson said she'd initially granted entry because a children's health charity would get some of the proceeds from Tyson's speech. She said in a statement her decision was "a finely balanced call" but that the charity that would have benefited, the Life Education Trust, withdrew its support Tuesday.
"Given that the trust is no longer supporting the event, on balance, I have made the decision to cancel his visa," Wilkinson wrote in her statement.
The charity's chief executive, John O'Connell, however, said the charity long ago decided not to accept any money from the event due to its concerns over Tyson's character, but that a volunteer trustee had mistakenly sent a letter to immigration authorities supporting Tyson's plans.
Meanwhile, 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 for an Australian visa.
Tyson's criminal history could prevent him from obtaining an Australian visa. Would-be visitors normally must pass a character test. Those with a "substantial criminal record" — which by the immigration department's definition includes people who, like Tyson, have been sentenced to more than a year in prison — would fail the test. But the department can still use its discretion to grant a visa.
Markson Sparks! has been advertising tickets for Tyson's Australian appearances at between 69 and 300 Australian dollars ($71 and $308).
Colorful promoter Max Markson said he'd been "hoping it might be a smoother run with Mike Tyson" but that he 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 of Tyson's planned New Zealand leg.
Markson said he's continuing to sell tickets to the planned speeches in both countries and that buyers will get a full refund if the shows are cancelled. He said he had immigration lawyers in Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. working on the case.
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 New Zealand's indigenous Maori. In pre-European times, many Maori wore elaborate facial tattoos as a sign of their status in their tribe. Some Maori today who identify strongly with their traditional culture get similar tattoos.
Tyson told the agency that, aside from their tattoos, he knew little about the Maori people "so I'm looking forward to come down there and see them."
Prime Minister John Key spoke to media against the planned visit this week, questioning the decision by immigration authorities and saying he personally disapproved of the visit given Tyson's conviction for such a serious crime.
Before his visa was cancelled, Tyson told APNZ: "Fortunately, I am coming to New Zealand and there's nothing they can do about it and I'm so sorry, I'm sorry they feel disappointed and I'm just living my life."
Tyson was sentenced to six years in prison for the 1991 rape of 18-year-old Desiree Washington in an Indianapolis hotel room. He served three years before being released on parole.
Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report. Follow Nick Perry on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nickgbperry