Many of the Highest-Paid Athletes in the World Are Has-Beens, None Are Women

The Saudi Arabian government is paying many of today's richest stars, while females are relegated to the sidelines — for now

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo is the highest-paid athlete in the world
Mohammed Saad/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Apparently, if you want to be the highest-paid athlete in the world, you don’t even have to be very good at your sport anymore. You just have to be willing to accept checks signed by a government with an abhorrent human rights record.

Today, Sportico published its list of the top-100 highest-paid athletes in the world. Soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo ranks number one, having raked in $275 million in compensation last year — pretty good for a guy no team in any respectably competitive international football league wanted. After being a “negative presence” in the locker room at storied club Manchester United and benched by the Portugal head coach in the World Cup, he accepted what Sportico describes as “the richest on-field contract in sports and an off-field endorsement portfolio befitting a person with 620 million Instagram followers.”

Who could afford to pay such a fading star so much money? The Saudi Arabian government, which obtained most of its wealth by polluting the globe through sales of petroleum while oppressing women and executing dissenting journalists, among other human rights offenses.

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In an effort to keep things light — this is merely a sports column after all — I’ll move on to number two on the list; oops it’s Jon Rahm, one of the world’s finest golfers, who made a very public exit from the PGA to play on the LIV Golf tour, which is funded by the same Saudi Arabian government as part of efforts to diversify its portfolio while the world phases out gasoline use.

Going through the rest of the list, there are many other athletes who earned money last year from the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), including tennis players Novak Djokovic (No. 46) and Carlos Alcaraz (56); boxer Tyson Fury (64); and a bunch more soccer stars and golfers, a number of whom are has-beens like Ronaldo. As Sportico notes, “Money from Saudi Arabia flows through the top 100.”

One thing that definitely does not flow through the list is estrogen. Zero of its entrants are women. In fairness, Sportico points out that tennis players Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka had been list “mainstays” until this year. Williams retired in 2022 and Osaka didn’t play tennis at all in 2023 so she could give birth to her first child. Further, there’s at least a decent chance a woman will return to the list next year, as investment in women’s sports continues to soar.

Notable U.S. athletes appearing on the Sportico list include Lebron James (4), Steph Curry (7) and Patrick Mahomes (10), among many others. Appearing at the bottom of the list is Derek Carr, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints. He earned $32.5 million in total, while finishing 16th in QBR during the regular season and leading his team to a second-place finish in the NFL’s worst division. Good work if you can get it!

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