Saudi Money Helps Push World's Highest-Paid Athletes to a Record $3.4 Billion This Year

Forbes' annual list of the World's 50 Highest-Paid Athletes is officially here, and the globe's top athletes raked in a record $3.4 billion. The eye-watering sum was helped along in no small part by a massive influx of money from Saudi Arabia, which funded huge paydays for golf and soccer stars.

The globe's top-earning athlete was Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, whose move from Manchester United to the Saudi Pro League's Al Nassr netted him an estimated $75 million annual salary. He earned $136 million total with dozens of lucrative endorsement deals.

Meanwhile, golfers Dustin Johnson ($107 million) and Phil Mickelson ($106 million) both earned major paydays by jumping to the Saudi-funded LIV Golf, each landing in the top 10. They're two of seven golfers that made this year's top 50 list thanks to huge upfront LIV Golf deals.

And while he still plays in Europe, Argentinian World Cup winner Lionel Messi has a multi-million-dollar deal as a tourism ambassador for the Kingdom. His duties for that deal led to a two-week suspension from Paris Saint-Germain when he missed a practice to travel to Saudi Arabia.

There's also been an influx of money from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and more into sports like Formula 1, boxing, WWE, and UFC. As Forbes notes, the spending has put financial pressure on everything from the PGA Tour to the English Premier League. It's also drawn criticism for concerns about "sports washing," as countries in the region distract from their poor human rights records with positive publicity associated with athletic leagues and sports stars.

But for star athletes, it's primarily meant a huge payday. Check out Forbes' full World's Highest Paid Athletes list to see who else made the cut.