City Kickboxing head coach Eugene Bareman has made a personal appeal to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the hope of having harsher laws for 'coward punch' offences put in place.
The ongoing campaign from the world-renowned Auckland gym comes after City Kickboxing mixed martial artist Fau Vake died as a result of the injuries he suffered in a blindsided attack during a night out in Auckland.
Four men were charged in relations to the case. One, Ofa Folau, entered a guilty plea on two representative charges of assault with intent to injure in June. On Tuesday, Folau was sentenced to six months home detention for his role in the incident, which included striking both Fau Vake and his brother, Ika, the court heard. Prosecutors did not allege, nor did the court find, that Folau was responsible for Vake's death.
Like Ardern, Bareman has a young child and hopes he and members of the gym can use their platform to champion change to make the country's largest city a safer place.
"Me and Jacinda, we have something in common; we have small children and they're about the same age," Bareman said. "Around about the same time, they're going to start getting really inquisitive, quite a few years from now, about wanting to take themselves into the city and socialise with their friends.
"I'm doing what I can so that when that time comes and my little two-year-old decides he wants to go into the city to socialise with his friends, and maybe Jacinda Ardern's two-year-old will be in there as well, I'm doing everything I can to advocate some sort of change and make it safe for my two-year-old child to go in and out; make it safe so that these people have a deterrent and can't [make] victims [of] others. That's what I'm doing with my platform. I can only do so much. Me and my team are doing everything we can, but she has more power than me.
"I voted for her. I'm a voting member of this great country and what I want in return for my vote is something done about this."
Bareman's sentiments were echoed by UFC lightweight star Brad Riddell who, like a number of City Kickboxing members, has welcomed a child into the world over the last couple of years.
Riddell said he dreads the day his daughter is old enough to go into town for a night out with the current laws in place.
"To be honest, I'll probably follow. I'll probably follow from like 30-40 metres away. I know a guy that does that and just keeps an eye on it, because I don't trust Auckland city," Riddell said.
"I think it's a very violent city to be honest. I've been to a lot of places around the world and the violence in New Zealand is getting pretty bad. I see it even during the day around areas I live, and it's heart-breaking. It gets advertised as a clean, green, safe place to live, and at the moment it's not."
After the news of Vake's assault came to light in May, the gym has led a growing charge to introduce harsher penalties for 'coward punches'. It comes just a year after a proposed bill to do just that got rejected in its first reading. Under the bill, a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, as an alternative to manslaughter, for those convicted of the offence was proposed.
Since they started to campaign for harsher penalties, Riddell said he and several members of the gym had been receiving messages from people sharing their own stories of being the victim of a coward punch incident; the number of which had shocked the athletes.
"I've had a lot of those messages. A lot of people saying the same thing happened to them; a few people went in depth about it and say they're pretty grateful that we're having a crack with our social media base to promote some change, or try provoke some change. But it's kind of depressing opening up your social media and seeing that sort of stuff every day," Riddell said.
"I understand what they're saying. I feel them. It's just mental how many come through. It's crazy how many messages come through and how many people this has happened to. There will be a huge number of people who this has happened to, but they've got up and walked away. Thank God they did. If they hadn't, this number would just be through the roof."