Plenty of athletes are receiving a hefty payday from a controversial source.
The 2023 list of highest-paid athletes is a record-setting one, but the cause for it is a little suspect.
The Top 10 list released by Forbes on Tuesday morning set an all-time record of $1.1 billion among its members, led by soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo ($136 million), Lionel Messi ($130 million, and Kylian Mbappé (120 million).
But each has benefited from the influx of money — directly or indirectly — from Middle Eastern nations who many are accusing of practicing sportswashing. And so have a few other members of the list.
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Ronaldo had a tumultuous exit from Manchester United before signing a deal with Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr for a massive $75 million per year through the summer of 2025. The deal has also driven huge sponsorship deals for the football star, the same benefit granted to his rival, Messi, for working with the Saudis.
The 2022 World Cup champion did not join a Saudi team despite speculation he would ditch Europe for a big contract. However, he is a tourism ambassador for Saudi Arabia, contributing to the $65 million he earned off the field.
The 24-year-old Mbappé, the youngest member on this list, made more on-field than his two counterparts ($100 million). His club, where he plays alongside Messi in France for Paris Saint Germain, is owned by Qatar Sports Investments which is fueled by the country’s sovereign wealth fund.
Two members of the controversial LIV Golf Tour, funded by Saudi Arabia, have also cracked the top 10 despite the uncertainty surrounding the actual viewership of the Tour.
Dustin Johnson ($107 million, 6th) and Phil Mickelson ($106 million, 7th) both received ungodly amounts of money to sign with LIV and have cracked the list despite neither making the top 30 last year. However, both made less than 5% of their salary off the golf course with sponsors still uncertain about signing players on the much-maligned PGA Tour rival.
The rest of the list features several veteran stars in different sports who have less attachment to the Middle Eastern funds. NBA stars LeBron James ($119.5 million, 4th), Stephen Curry ($100.4 million, 8th), and Kevin Durant ($89.1 million, 10th) all have major endorsement deals and have several investments off the court. Tennis star Roger Federer also made the list, driven by huge endorsement deals despite retiring from tennis in September.
Canelo Alvarez ($110 million, 5th) represents boxing on the list, a sport that has produced some of the most money for athletes including the highest single-year payday of all-time with Floyd Mayweather’s $300 million in 2015.
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This story was originally published May 2, 2023, 11:34 AM.
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