Is it fair to compare greats from different sports?

July 9, 2009


I just came across an interesting blog on the bleacher report comparing the greatness of Roger Federer and Tiger Woods.

Here in Italy, the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper has been running a series called “Impossible duels” where the likes of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt have gone up against each other in a bizarre statistical battle.

But if there is even a debate about whether we can say Federer is the greatest player in tennis, how can we start to compare across sports?

We can talk about desire, mental toughness etc but the sports are so radically different.

Despite my doubts, here goes. Who was/is the greatest sports personality ever?

CAPTION: Can you name all the sporting figures in this photo?


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

The greatest boxer ever Muhammad Ali

Posted by Boss Hoss | Report as abusive

Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan are two absolute legends.

Posted by Daisy | Report as abusive

I’m baffled why you’d use a phrase like “sports personality”. In that case you’re going to get a load of answers like Muhammad Ali, who had such a larger than life personality and charisma.
The quesiton should be who was the greatest sportsperson. Full stop. That will take charisma into account and sure, Ali is up there, but it also means we should cosider the modest and the forgotten, people like Jim Thorpe.

Posted by jamesy | Report as abusive

It is useless to try to compare athletes from different sports because of exactly what you stated in your next-to-last sentence. The only thing that we have to do is acknowledge the greatness of such athletes and leave it at that.

The issue is further complicated by regionalism, for example Americans can mutter the names of some amazing NFL or MLB players, but those names have no relevance to people in other countries. To me a truly great athlete has to transcend boundaries and be recognized globally without any questions.


Posted by Pico | Report as abusive

MJ…not Johnson the sprinter. MJ the heart of Basketball. No other like him. I think lil LBJ may hav a shot….but its not about how may rings or watever. Its about how he did what he did. The greatest athlete every. Ali gets a distant second. Federer and Tiger can figure out 3rd and 4th when their done. but as of now. there’s only one General. and it JORDAN

Posted by JamaicaGaza | Report as abusive

To have a debate like this surely first of all you would have to take all the greatest players from each individual sport and then compare them accordingly? So for instance i dont know alot about basketball but im willing to put good money on the fact most people will say Michael Jordon? Tennis i believe has got to be Roger Federer the guy is pure class, golf i dont think anyone will better Tiger will they? As for american football and baseball i will need some help from the Americans for those two. As for football (soccer to our friends across the pond) then there are so many in the past that have broken records and been true legends such as Pele, Maradona, Van basten, Cruyff, Best but i believe that the level the game is played at now is the reason why someone would have to be picked from the last 10 years, and in contrast to other sports i would not have someone who has been overly successfull with trophies. Nicolas Anelka for example is a good player and hes won a hell of alot of trophies but i would not put him up there with the likes of Zidane, Henry and Maldini who i believe should top the football list. (With Lionel Messi being a big shout for greatest ever if he continues the way hes going for the next 10 years.)

Posted by maid | Report as abusive