By M. Duncan Scott
BRISBANE, Australia, September 5. JODIE Henry is one of Australia’s hottest new sporting commercial properties.
Though Swimming World magazine had selected the 20 year old Aussie to win the 100 freestyle gold medal in Athens, to most her triple gold medal performance – world record in the 100 freestyle and phenomenal anchor legs on the winning Australian 4 x 100 freestyle and 4 x 100 medley relays – was a revelation. A star of another magnitude was born.
And when that happens, people in the sports promotion business see money to be made, and the whole matter can get messy. Reports from the Sunday Mail-Queensland and Fox Sports-Australia show the “messy” part of this experience for Miss Henry may just be starting. Rival agents are claiming contractual rights to the Olympic gold medalist’s multi-million dollar earning potential – and it could end up in the courts.
Henry may soon be hard pressed to maintain what are often describe as a winning smile and an easy-going attitude, attributes that are expected to meld with her medals to make her one of the most marketable faces in Australian sport and world aquatics.
Henry became the first Australian woman to win the glamour two-lap sprint since Dawn Fraser in 1964.
Sports marketing agents have said the sky's the limit in terms of sponsorship dollars for Henry but because of her phenomenal achievements she faces a very ugly legal battle.
Brisbane sports management company Invigorate Management, run by Tess Lazarus, the wife of a former Australian rugby star, claims it signed up the young swimmer in 2002.
But her current management team, Elite Sports Properties, run by 1984 400 IM bronze-medalist Rob Woodhouse, says that contract expired and that Henry signed exclusively with them before the Olympics.
Lazarus confirmed she has sought advice from lawyer Bruce Howes regarding
breach of contract and referred all questions to him. Attorney Howes, of Canberra, said his client had "negotiated a whole range of things" including sponsorships and a car but "out of nowhere" Henry went elsewhere. "Jodie Henry has negotiated a new contract while she was still contracted to my client and this constitutes a contractual breach."
Howes said the dispute had been delayed deliberately to allow Henry to compete in Athens without it hanging over her head. “It would have been a nightmare to have brought this up before the Olympics – we might have affected her Olympic preparation."
We at SwimInfo surmise a more significant factor in deciding to involve lawyers now is a comparison of Henry’s marketability before Athens compared to afterward.
However disingenuous Howes’ statement about not interfering with Olympic preparation may seem, SwimInfo is absolutely straightforward in hoping that this clash of moneychangers does not interfere with Jodie’s preparation for the rest of her career. She has shown herself to be a special and rare talent that true swimming fans, regardless of country, treasure and look forward to enjoying in the future.
Howes stressed that while Henry was a "wonderful swimmer" and "great ambassador" for Australia, he was left with no choice but to initiate legal proceedings. "We haven't yet filed. We would have liked to have sorted this out, but we're intending to file," he said.
Henry's manager and former swimmer Rob Woodhouse said he was "surprised" but "not concerned" about Invigorate's claims. "As far as I know, there's nothing to settle, but I'm hoping to talk to Invigorate and their lawyers. They certainly haven't contacted us, and I would be amazed if there was any action," he said.