Who Are The World's Most Popular Sports Stars?

For as long as there’s been professional sports, there have been iconic sportspeople. Figures like Babe Ruth, Muhammed Ali, David Beckham and Billie Jean King have historically become household names, with their most famous moments featured in countless news stories, documentaries and even movies.

But, while those stars have been popular over the last century, we wanted to take a look at the most popular sportspeople right here and now and reveal which sporting heroes are piquing our interest the most globally.

To find out, we dug into Google search data to discover which sports stars have been Googled the most in different countries over the past 12 months, revealing the most popular male and female athletes around the globe. We broke our findings down into the most popular male sportspeople and female sportspeople, before taking a look at the most searched for figures in a variety of our favourite sports – including running, cycling, swimming and CrossFit. Read on to find out more...



Top Male Sportspeople Globally

Basketball and football stars really dominated the list of annual global searches, with Portuguese football soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo hitting the top spot. Since Manchester United paid £12 million to sign him at just 16 years old, he’s gone on to play for Real Madrid and Italian Serie A club Juventus. The 36-year-old footballer has won the Ballon d’Or a whopping five times, with only Lionel Messi (who came in at 8th in our list) having won more in the award’s lifespan. Ronaldo is also the top goal scorer of all time for his country, having scored 103 goals for the Portuguese international team. Admired all around the world, the data revealed Ronaldo to be the number one sports star in 82 different countries, including Italy, Spain and Switzerland. He’s also not just the most followed Instagram sportsperson, he’s also the most popular account full stop, with over 275 million followers.

In second place on our list is American NBA legend LeBron James, considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time, with Brazilian football megastar Neymar da Silva Santos Jr taking third spot.

RankingSportspersonSportAnnual Global Searches
1Cristiano RonaldoFootball99,207,840
2LeBron JamesBasketball77,564,570
4Michael JordanBasketball75,210,140
5Tom BradyAmerican Football63,573,740
6Conor McGregorMMA62,375,910
7Mike TysonBoxing51,364,010
8Lionel MessiFootball38,967,190
9Virat KohliCricket33,133,610
10Tyson FuryBoxing31,323,230
12Stephen CurryBasketball30,281,390
13Lewis HamiltonFormula 126,050,970
14Tiger WoodsGolf23,588,140
16Khabib NurmagomedovMMA21,874,320
17Floyd MayweatherBoxing20,488,400
18Dennis RodmanBasketball20,482,780
19Giannis AntetokounmpoBasketball20,448,480
20Kevin DurantBasketball20,395,370

Top Female Sportspeople Globally

When it came to world’s most famous sportswomen, UFC legend Ronda Rousey was able to fight off the competition with ease. With almost double the amount of annual global searches than US football striker Alex Morgan who came in at second place, Rousey topped the list in 93 different countries around the world. Originally trained in judo, after becoming the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in the sport at the 2008 Summer Olympics, Rousey began to pursue a career in mixed martial arts. She then went on to set the record for the most UFC title defences by a woman, losing only twice in the entirety of her professional MMA career. Interestingly, Rousey was one of eight MMA stars to make it into the sportswomen top 20 list.

Widely regarded as one of the best tennis players of all time, Serena Williams came in third on the list, making it an all-American top three. Williams has won an incredible 23 Grand Slam singles titles- the second highest of all time and was ranked world No. 1 eight times between 2002 and 2017. Perhaps surprisingly, Serena’s sister Venus did not feature, despite her also being widely regarded as one of tennis’ all-time greats.

RankingSportspersonSportAnnual Global Searches
1Ronda RouseyMMA21,666,500
2Alex MorganFootball8,446,340
3Serena WilliamsTennis7,462,710
4Tonya HardingFigure Skating7,254,410
5Paige VanzantMMA6,330,600
6Smriti MandhanaCricket5,923,860
7Joanna JedrzejczykMMA5,595,360
8Amanda NunesMMA4,537,240
9Maria SharapovaTennis4,418,870
10Valentina SchevchenkoMMA3,617,710
11Megan RapinoeFootball3,524,190
12Holly HolmMMA3,466,430
13Rose NamjunasMMA3,217,310
14Sue BirdBasketball2,934,770
15Caster SemenyaMiddle Distance Running2,608,910
16Ellyse PerryCricket2,530,550
17Mikaela ShiffrinSkiing2,450,630
18Laila AliBoxing2,240,270
19Sarah FullerAmerican football and football2,165,910
20Miesha TateMMA2,098,980


Our research covered a wide range of popular sports, so we thought we’d dig a little deeper into the results to learn more about the current most searched-for figures in some of our favourite activities.


Here at SportsShoes we’re famous for our huge range of running shoes and kit, so looking into the world’s most popular runners seemed the perfect place to start.

Long distance running:

British athlete Mo Farah took top spot for long distance running – little surprise considering he is one of the most successful British track athletes in recent Olympic Games history. In the female list British marathon, half marathon and cross-country world champion Paula Radcliffe came out top.

1Mo Farah - 4,598,700Paula Radcliffe - 317,380
2Eliud Kipchoge - 1,525,080Shalane Flanagan - 117,390
3Kenenisa Bekele - 451,400Tirunesh Dibaba - 92,870
4Joshua Cheptegei - 345,740Letesenbet Gidey - 61,600
5Galen Rupp - 315,050Molly Huddle - 56,370
6Haile Gebrselassie - 268,160Gabriela Szabo - 54,690
7Mohammed Ahmed - 104,250Karissa Schweizer - 44,840
8Hagos Gebrhiwet - 53,650Elvan Abeylegesse - 39,530
9Jacob Kiplimo - 46,960Almaz Ayana - 38,550
10Paul Tergat - 43,830Derartu Tulu - 33,390

Middle distance running:

Topping the male list for middle-distance runners is Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a Norwegian runner who broke Norway’s national record in the 5000m and won 2 gold medals at the 2018 European Championships. Meanwhile, South African two-time women’s Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion Caster Semenya was the most popular female in this set.

1Jakob Ingebrigtsen - 846,220Caster Semenya - 2,608,910
2Hicham el Guerrouj - 627,880Konstanze Klosterhalfen - 290,250
3José Luis González - 240,100Genzebe Dibaba - 242,250
4Steve Ovett - 219,680Zola Budd - 195,650
5Steve Scott - 213,820Sifan Hassan - 145,810
6Sebastian Coe - 207,130Jenny Simpson - 127,400
7Steve Cram - 190,160Laura Muir - 106,440
8Fermín Cacho - 167,360Elle Purrier - 104,490
9David Rudisha - 149,620Jemma Reekie - 82,880
10Alan Webb - 149,150Sonia O'Sullivan - 64,060

Short distance running:

Jamaican Usain Bolt has raced to the lead in our male short distance running category, thanks to his legendary Olympic status and three world records in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay. Meanwhile, American track and field sprinter Allyson Felix holds the top spot for females, thanks to her incredible achievements in both the Olympics and IAAF World Championships.

1Usain Bolt - 14,851,290Allyson Felix - 811,560
2Michael Johnson - 1,362,320Florence Griffith-Joyner - 760,580
3Carl Lewis - 1,306,910Cathy Freeman - 711,920
4Pietro Mennea - 780,200Marion Jones - 695,770
5Justin Gatlin - 630,940Dafne Schippers - 426,490
6Yohan Blake - 629,250Dina Asher-Smith - 421,270
7Maurice Greene - 456,190Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce - 316,560
8Tyson Gay - 415,760Sha'Carri Richardson - 259,190
9Noah Lyles - 414,070Ana Guevara - 226,740
10Asafa Powell - 413,120Merlene Ottey - 169,310

You can purchase running gear and accessories over in our Running Store


Michael Phelps is by far the most searched-for swimmer on our male list – another accolade to add to his mind-blowing 28 Olympic medals, making him the most successful and decorated Olympian of all time. Meanwhile, Italian freestyle swimmer Federica Pellegrini dives into first place for females. Pellegrini was the first female to break the 4-minute barrier in the 400m freestyle swim and holds multiple medals in The World Championships, European Championships and Olympics.

1Michael Phelps - 7,068,970Federica Pellegrini - 1,794,150
2Tom Daley - 2,033,870Alexandra Paul - 1,132,780
3Ryan Lochte - 1,042,530Laure Manaudou - 968,740
4Johnny Weissmuller - 797,920Esther Williams - 739,440
5Camille Lacourt - 615,070Inge de Brujin - 312,490
6Mark Spitz - 602,180Franziska van Almsick - 287,430
7Ian Thorpe - 564,230Annette Kellerman - 272,030
8John Marshall - 487,820Charlène Wittstock - 233,150
9Nathan Adrian - 224,890Natalie Coughlin - 203,090
10Duke Kahanamoku - 166,460Erica Terpstra - 195,310

See our full range of swimwear and swimming accessories


The most searched-for male in cycling is American road-racer Lance Armstrong, who beat cancer and pedalled to fame for winning the Tour de France seven times in a row between 1999 and 2005, before he was stripped of his titles due to a doping scandal. Meanwhile, Dutch road-racing cyclist and former world champion Annemiek van Vleuten heads up our popular female list.

1Lance Armstrong - 5,103,000Annemiek van Vleuten - 319,790
2Peter Sagan - 2,851,910Anna van der Breggen - 276,630
3Nairo Quintana - 2,092,860Marianne Vos - 225,740
4Eddy Merckx - 1,734,860Jeannie Longo - 196,070
5Chris Froome - 1,574,150Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig - 132,170
6Jan Ullrich - 1,215,410Alison Jackson - 110,870
7Primoz Roglic - 1,093,230Alfonsina Strada - 83,170
8Marco Pantani - 1,042,780Leontien Van Moorsel - 79,200
9Alberto Contador - 812,350Hannah Barnes - 72,760
10Bradley Wiggins - 631,510Sarah Roy - 65,530

Stock up on a range of cycling gear over at our Biking Store


World-renowned Portuguese football player Cristiano Ronaldo is the most popular male sportsperson in the world, as well as the most searched for male footballer player. The forward has one five Ballon d’Or awards and four European Golden Shoes, setting European records for both. Amongst females, American soccer player Alex Morgan tops the searches. Morgan currently plays for the Orlando Pride and was named U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year in 2012 and 2018, and one of Time’s 100 most Influential People of 2019.

1Cristiano Ronaldo - 99,207,840Alex Morgan - 8,446,340
2Neymar - 76,622,600Megan Rapinoe - 3,524,190
3Lionel Messi - 38,967,190Hope Solo - 1,710,930
4Diego Maradona - 31,146,240Formiga - 1,532,260
5Ronaldinho - 30,366,410Abby Wambach - 1,223,190
6Pelé - 23,486,730Tobin Heath - 998,120
7David Beckham - 20,279,640Julie Ertz - 818,840
8Luis Suarez - 16,879,330Pernille Harder - 792,370
9Sergio Ramos - 15,094,540Lieke Martens - 750,880
10Gareth Bale - 13,519,820Mia Hamm - 726,650


The most searched-for male tennis star is Rafael Nadal, who is currently ranked ATP’s No.3 in the world and has been No.1 on their list five times. The Spaniard has won 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, whilst the only other player to do so is Roger Federer (fourth on our list). Two former tennis players who have dabbled in fashion feature in our top 10 list: Fred Perry, who created an eponymous clothing brand in the 1940s; and Stan Smith, whose Adidas tennis shoes are considered iconic by many. Serena Williams tops the searches for female tennis players, and is also the third most popular sportswoman across all sports. Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, which is record breaking in the Open Era, and the second highest of all time.

1Rafael Nadal - 12,561,660Serena Williams - 7,462,710
2Novak Djokovic - 11,104,750Maria Sharapova - 4,418,870
3Dominic Thiem - 8,096,720Ana Ivanovic - 1,740,970
4Roger Federer - 7,834,120Simona Halep - 1,704,650
5Fred Perry - 4,678,780Gabriela Sabatini - 1,528,930
6Stan Smith - 4,139,700Venus Williams - 1,415,270
7Alexander Zverev - 3,332,480Monica Seles - 877,120
8Boris Becker - 2,630,560Kim Clijsters - 795,510
9Yannick Noah - 1,822,230Martina Hingis - 790,110
10Andy Murray - 1,667,340Angelique Kerber - 665,920

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American Football

American quarterback Tom Brady has the most searches for American footballers and is considered by many to be the best quarterback of all time. Brady holds records for most passing yards, touchdown passes and games started by a quarterback, and has won five Super Bowl MVP awards. He is also the only quarterback to have won Super Bowls across three separate decades. Sarah Fuller is the most searched for female American footballer, partly because she made history becoming the first women to score in a major college football game in 2020.

1Tom Brady - 63,573,750Sarah Fuller - 2,165,910
2Aaron Rodgers - 18,463,760Katie Sowers - 282,760
3Drew Brees - 15,318,020Callie Brownson - 189,840
4Russell Wilson - 11,117,700Katie Hnida - 100,240
5Lamar Jackson - 10,731,050Ashley Martin - 70,070
6Rob Gronkowski - 9,983,330Samantha Gordon - 34,740
7Odell Beckham Jr. - 8,498,340Jennifer Welter - 31,630
8Peyton Manning - 5,458,200April Goss - 18,530
9DeAndre Hopkins - 5,084,900Liz Heaston - 11,090
10Deion Sanders - 4,577,930Julie Harshbarger - 4,530


The most searched for mixed martial artist is Conor McGregor who is notorious for his trash talk, alongside being a former UFC featherweight and lightweight champion. The Irishman also holds the record for the fastest victory in UFC title fight history and has headlined in five of the six highest selling UFC per-per-view fights. Ronda Rousey tops the female list, known for setting records in women’s judo, the UFC and WWE. Rousey is the only women who has held titles in both the UFC and WWE, as well as exploring an acting career, appearing in films such as The Expendables 3, Furious 7 and Mile 22.

1Conor McGregor - 62,375,910Ronda Rousey - 21,666,500
2Khabib Nurmagomedov - 21,874,320Paige Vanzant - 6,330,600
3Jon Jones - 15,031,500Joanna Jedrzejczyk - 5,595,360
4Israel Adesanya - 14,504,780Amanda Nunes - 4,537,240
5Tony Ferguson - 12,115,400Valentina Shevchenko - 3,617,710
6Anderson Silva - 8,357,070Holly Holm - 3,466,430
7Nate Diaz - 4,363,600Rose Namajunas - 3,217,310
8Daniel Cormier - 3,980,170Miesha Tate - 2,098,980
9Donald Cerrone - 3,962,400Michelle Waterson - 1,545,750
10Stipe Miocic - 3,591,870Karolina Kowalkiewicz - 777,600


American born LeBron James is considered by many as one of the greatest NBA players of all time, which is perhaps why he tops our list as the most searched for basketball player. James is the only player to have won NBA championships with three franchises as a Finals MVP and has won two Olympic gold medals. Sue Bird nets the most searched female position on our list. The Israeli-American WNBA player has the most assists in the league’s history and is one of just eleven women in history who have won the WNBA Championship (4), an Olympic medal (4), the NCAA Championship (2), and the FIBA World Cup (4).

1LeBron James - 77,564,570Sue Bird - 2,934,770
2Michael Jordan - 75,210,140Candace Parker - 2,053,930
3Stephen Curry - 30,281,390Maya Moore - 1,361,600
4Dennis Rodman - 20,482,780Diana Taurasi - 1,314,210
5Giannis Antetokounmpo - 20,448,480Lisa Leslie - 1,283,680
6Kevin Durant - 20,395,370Liz Cambage - 1,272,020
7James Harden - 19,932,280Tina Charles - 1,166,930
8Anthony Davis - 18,727,320Brittney Griner - 1,050,000
9Scottie Pippen - 16,805,230Becky Hammon - 852,600
10Shaquille O'Neal - 15,366,090Elena Delle Donne - 807,290

Are you feeling inspired? Then join our SportsShoes Strava Run Club and become part of our inclusive community.
And for more inspirational tips to become stronger, better and happier, then check out our Motivation category. Because it’s no fun standing still.


Welcome to the SportsShoes Motivation Hub! From real-life stories, tips and inspiration, here you'll find everything you need to motivate you to keep pushing your limits and break PBs.

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