An ‘Objective’ List, Of The Top 10 Sportspeople Of All Time

1. Sir Donald Bradman

Averaging 99.94 runs over his test cricket career.

2. Pele

Scored 77 goals from 92 International games, averaging 0.84 per game.

3. Lance Armstrong

Won 7 consecutive Tour De France’s.

4. Roger Federer

Won 15 grand slam tennis titles.

5. Michael Jordan

Averaged 30.12 points per game over his career.

6. Tiger Woods

With 70 PGA tournament victories.

7. Rod Laver

Won 11 Grand slam tennis titles.

8. Carl Lewis

Won 9 Olympic Games gold medals in track and field.

9. Muhammad Ali

With a professional boxing record of 56 wins and 5 losses.

10. Diego Maradona

Scored 8 World Cup goals.


How this ‘objective’ list was compiled:

An Australian magazine called Alpha recently released a list of the Top 100 sportspeople of all time. I was looking through the list and found it difficult to understand why certain sportspeople were below and above others. The list was based entirely on a subjective basis. I thought it would be interesting to make an objective list, based entirely on numbers of the top 10 sportspeople of all time.

I constructed a formula that had two components. The first component was intended to determine how good an athlete was in their particular field. I determined this number based upon how good they were compared to the second best person in their sport. In some cases in the list, the athlete wasn’t even the best in their sport, hence I compared them to the best. It was necessary for me to find a relevant number that could be used to compare two players in their sport. For instance number of grand slam titles in tennis, number of average runs in test cricket for those playing over 50 tests. In essence, the number was the most generous statistic for the athlete that still was a meaningful statistic with the respect to dominating a sport. With these numbers, I injected into my formula a ratio of how much better athlete A was than athlete B.

The second part of the formula took into account how many people played the sport and how popular the sport is or was. For instance, a stand out performer in a really obscure sport that only a handful of people compete in shouldn’t be considered better than the best soccer player. I gathered data from lists indicating the popularity and number of participants of certain sports and included this data in the formula. What is usually a flaw with conventional lists is comparing athletes from two unrelated sports, however this part of the formula manages to avoid this problem.

I could not apply the data to every single person who has played every single sport, so I decided to apply it only to the top 10 of Alpha Magazine’s top sportspeople of all time.

Alpha Magazine’s Top 10 Sports People Of All Time

1. Muhammad Ali

2. Sir Donald Bradman

3. Michael Jordan

4. Tiger Woods

5. Diego Maradona

6. Rod Laver

7. Pele

8. Roger Federer

9. Carl Lewis

10. Lance Armstrong

In essence my ‘objective’ list is not a true ‘objective’ list but rather a quasi-objective list. It takes subjective data of a subset and ranks it objectively.

Some further problems with compiling an objective list are comparing athletes from different time periods. An athlete may have dominated completely in the past however athletes can now train full time and have scientific literature regarding their sport. This literature is an advantage such as optimal training, nutrition and sporting technique.

A flaw with my ‘objective’ list is that it only measures numerically significant data related to results. For instance it doesn’t measure how far Michael Jordan could slam dunk or how many people Diego Maradona could dribble around. The ‘objective’ list also makes it hard for certain athletes to do well such as a defender in soccer, as meaningful statistics in soccer tend to always focus on number of goals scored.

In the future I will make another list up, using my formula and this one won’t be limited to Alpha Magazine’s top 10. The future list will contain many more sportspeople and may become closer to being a more truly objective list.

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