The Most Famous Athletes In The World

So, there’s a poll up asking you to vote on who you think are the five most famous active athletes in the world. Now, among the trickier parts of this question is the word “world.” What does it mean? Take a look at the 10 most populous countries on earth.

1. China, 1.35 billion

2. India, 1.21 billion

3. United States, 315 million

4. Indonesia, 237 million

5. Brazil 193 million

6. Pakistan, 192 million

7. Nigeria, 171 million

8. Bangladesh, 152 million

9. Russia, 143 million

10. Japan, 127 million

OK. So when you consider that Asia has more than 4 billion people -- more than all other continents in the world combined by more than a billion people*, well, any question about the world’s most famous athletes would have to skew heavily toward China and India. And, of course, you can certainly vote that way. It makes perfect sense.

*With Antarctica adding literally nothing to the world total.

But I must admit I’m looking for something a little bit different. What I’m looking for are the athletes who most famous EVERYWHERE in the world. There was a time when this was an easy answer -- Muhammad Ali was not only the most famous athlete in the world, he was almost certainly for a time the most famous PERSON in the world. He fought all over the world, he was political, he was outspoken, he was funny … he crossed pretty much every line.

I don’t think there’s an athlete today who is quite that famous. I have my own opinion who is the most famous athlete in the world, which I will share later. But for now, one way you might look at it is this: Which athlete, if he made significant news somehow (won a Nobel Prize, died, committed a horrible crime, retired and gave up all their money and dedicated their life to the sick and poor) would be on the front page of the most newspapers and Websites around the world? Another less gruesome way to look at it is this: Which athlete would sell out in the most nations around the world?

Obviously, most of the readers here are American, and so I would expect this to have a bit of an American slant. I don’t think that’s a terrible thing, though. The U.S., though it is only the third largest country in the world, is hugely influential as a media and entertainment powerhouse. So that plays in the conversation too.

But, as Marty DeBergi says: Enough of my yakkin’. Please take the poll and we’ll discuss more later.