A French environmental group has threatened the French America’s Cup challenge Le Defi Areva with disruption and damage if nuclear energy giant Areva doesn’t drop its sponsorship

The words ‘nuclear’ and ‘French’ make uneasy bed-fellows in the minds of New Zealand’s population. The combination of French nuclear tests in Mururoa, despite global protest, and the sabotage of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior in Auckland by French government operatives in 1985, have given the Kiwis good reason to bristle at the prospect of both words turning up together, especially when they plan to compete for the jewel in New Zealand’s sporting crown – the America’s Cup.

But as tobacco is the only sponsorship proscribed by RNZYS, the Kiwis reluctantly accept that Areva – a French-based global energy giant with major nuclear interests – has every right to take part as sponsor of the French team. The big surprise this time is that the dark murmurings and menacing threats are coming from the Brittany coast.

Alain Rivat, head of the unnamed French environmental organisation making the threats, demanded in a Daily Telegraph article that Areva drop its £17 million sponsorship or face direct action. Rivat has said that his group is quite prepared to disrupt training off Le Defi Areva’s training base at Lorient and will use all means possible to blockade the boat, currently in build in the Multiplast Yard in Vannes. In his own words, the boat would “never arrive” in Auckland unless sponsorship was dropped.

Since the news broke in Auckland, Greenpeace New Zealand has maintained that violence towards the French challenger is not an option but non-violent protest during the Louis Vuitton Cup is a possibility.

New Zealand’s America’s Cup Minister Trevor Mallard, speaking in the New Zealand Herald, echoed the Kiwi peoples’ dismay at these two bad pennies rolling into town together, but said he would not proscribe nuclear energy sponsorship on the grounds that tobacco advertising could start people smoking whereas nuclear power advertisements were unlikely to lead anyone to meddle with atomic power.

More as this story develops?