The decision by John Key to fight a boxing match just weeks before the likely election date is causing consternation among some past and present National Party politicians.
National Party president Peter Goodfellow has confirmed that a provision had been agreed under Mr Key’s arrangements with National, allowing him to fight up to two boxing matches a year.
While Mr Key has not yet taken the opportunity to step into the boxing ring, it is understood that he has arranged two fights in 2011.
The first fight, scheduled in January, will be against Wladimir Klitschko, the Russian giant who currently holds the IBF, IBO and WBO boxing titles.
The second bout is expected to take place in September, in Las Vegas. Key’s opponent for that fight has not been announced, though it is believed negotiations are underway between Key’s advisers and the camps of David Tua and US fighter Ray Austin.
John Key confirmed that he was training hard for the two bouts.
“I’ll be spending the summer in Hawaii relaxing. It’s critical to be fresh when you step into the ring. My officials will get me up to speed on what I need to know on the flight back to Auckland.”
Former National Party leader Jim Bolger said he was appalled at the news.
“How can this man run the country and fight a boxing match? What if he’s hurt? Do we really want the fate of our country being decided by a man with a brain injury? This is 1996 all over again.”
Key’s deputy, Bill English, who has also boxed, said he supported Key’s decision.
“I’m behind John all the way. The election next year will be a hard and tough campaign, and this will help to toughen up our leader.
“And if some terrible injury should befall him, I’m sure one of us will be ready to pick up the reins.”
Experts are divided on whether Key will make an impact in the sport. His first opponent, Wladimir Klitschko, is 1.98 metres tall, 34 years old and in the fighting form of his life. Key is 49, struggles to find time to exercise, and has never put on boxing gloves before.
Political commentator Simon Spingarten said Key’s poll ratings would stand him in good stead during the bout.
“The opposition have a huge amount of work to do if they’re going to make any sort of impact. It’s hard to imagine Key losing in 2011.
“All Key needs to do is play it safe and steady. But the way the polls are looking this could be a complete walkover.”
Labour leader Phil Goff was unavailable to comment on the issue. However, a robot that looked like Goff but still sounded like a robot said something, and nobody listened.