Forbes magazine’s annual ranking of 100 highest-paid athletes is out, and it has, for the first time, named Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi as world’s highest-paid athlete.
According to the publication, sportspersons on the list “collectively earned $4 billion over the last 12 months, up 5% from last year’s earnings of $3.8 billion”.
The Argentinian earned $US127 million ($182 million) in the past year, followed by Juventus-Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo ($US109 million), and Real Madrid-Brazil’s Neymar ($US105 million). Both Ronaldo and Neymar have faced serious allegations of sexual abuse in the last 12 months.
Dominating sports, countries, and gender
While basketball and football dominated the list of world’s highest-paying sports, cricket and boxing slipped in ranks. Ace cricketer and Indian men’s team captain Virat Kohli, who had featured as the only Indian last year, retained his unique position, occupying the 100th spot on the list with $US25 million (despite an increase of $1mn in endorsements). He was the only cricketer this year as well.
Ranked at 83 last year, Kohli first entered the elite club in 2017 and featured on the 2018 list that 41-year-old boxer Floyd Mayweather topped; Mayweather’s earnings stood at $285 million. However, the four-time topper, in seven years, did not make it to this year’s list.
Thirty-five players featured (down from 40 last year) are NBA stars, headed by LeBron James at No. 8 with $US89 million. Stephen Curry ($US79.8 million) and Kevin Durant ($USS65.4 million) also made the top 10, giving the US a lead among nations with the highest number of athletes on the list. NFL contracts enable career-high paydays even for young male baseball and basketball players, enabling the US to have 62 total athletes on this year’s list.
“The global impact of soccer is clearly reflected in earnings in 2019, with the top three athletes on the list being Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar,” said Kurt Badenhausen, senior editor, Forbes Media.
“But basketball players continue to dominate the top 100 overall with 35 athletes on the list earning a total of $1.29 billion; 72% of that income has come from salaries rather than endorsement deals.”
Although the US takes precedence, the list of highest-paid athletes is quite diverse and includes sportspersons belonging to 25 different nationalities this year. No Australians made the list, but basketball player Steven Adams from New Zealand came in at 78.
Golf sensation Tiger Woods, who made the comeback of a lifetime this April, stands at 11, while Formula One star Sebastian Vettel is at 30. Rising French football star Kylian Mbappe came in at 55.
But the list is still representative of the gender wage gap in sports. While the list was bereft of any women athletes last year, tennis star Serena Williams returned as the sole female bastion this year, coming in 63rd with $29.2 million in net earnings.
Meanwhile, two of the best male tennis players, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, occupy the 5th and 37th places, respectively, with Federer netting $93.4 million last year.
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None of the female soccer players putting up a spectacular show at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, currently underway, feature on the list. The state of affairs also speaks volumes about the relegation of athletics as a secondary sport.
India, cricket, and other sports
Last year, the Indian national cricket board named Kohli as one of the five players to receive the new contract, which guarantees an annual retainer of more than $1 million. Forbes had said Kohli’s gross earnings come “off the pitch”, referring to the retinue of high-profile endorsement deals he has signed with Puma, Pepsi, Audi, and Oakley among other brands.
This year, Kohli’s estimated earnings were $21m from endorsements and $4m from salary and winnings. Endorsement income witnessed an increase of 12.5% to $987 million this year, Forbes noted in its press release.
India seems to be lagging because of its investment in cricket at the cost of other sports that can produce stellar athletes with the right backing and sponsorship. Indian racket sports and athletic contingent bring back laurels from prestigious tournaments every other year and yet continue to be severely overlooked by authorities when it comes to infrastructure and monetary compensation.
The wage gap here not only pertains to salary differences between men and women but also among various sports. Nationally important games like hockey and kabaddi lose out on viewership, endorsements, and sponsors to cricketing monopoly. And if the Forbes list proves anything, it’s the role of endorsements in lifting a player from the podium to prestige.
Forbes calculates the athletes’ earnings by adding up their prize money, salaries, and endorsements between June 2018 and June 2019. Cost of admission to the 2019 list was the highest ever at $25 million, up $2.1 million from the previous year.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.