Front Row: Why aren’t women as represented in greatest sports person debates

In this week's edition of Front Row, columnist Ajay Atkinson recaps some of the most defining sports moments in 2020. (Submitted: Ajay Atkinson)

The topic regarding the greatest sportsperson ever takes on a plethora of views and diverse reactions. Legends die and new legends emerge. Records rise and records are broken and with every broken record, a new debate surfaces. For many, Usain Bolt is the greatest sportsperson of all time. Others might say Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Tom Brady, Muhammad Ali, Pele or Michael Phelps. Ideally, they have set unattainable records or displayed exceptional qualities in raising the bar during their times as athletes.

Still, when it comes to the discussion of the greatest sportsperson, it is often noted women are somewhat exempted from such debates. This begs the question, is there an aura of misogyny surrounding the title of greatest sportsperson ever? Here is a look of some female athletes who have worked assiduously throughout their career and deserve to be recognized among the greatest of all time.

Serena Williams

Over the years, an immense number of female athletes have emerged through the ranks and have displayed exceptional performances in their respective disciplines. One of the greatest athletes of all time, Serena Williams, has won an abundance of titles and grand slams throughout her illustrious career. She has won more grand slam titles than both Steffi Graf, who has 22, and Roger Federer, who has 20. This is an impressive accomplishment given Federer is in the top ten list of greatest sportspeople to have lived.

Christine Sinclair

It’s no secret women do not get the recognition they deserve, especially those who play soccer. Christine Sinclair has played over 20 seasons of international soccer for Canada, competing in five FIFA Women World Cups and three Olympic soccer tournaments. She scored an impressive 186 international goals. If that number doesn’t impress you, the record for most international goals scored in the men’s division is 109, held by Ali Daei, who is followed by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo with 102. We would have to look down the ranks at seventh to find Brazilian legend Pele with 77 goals. With such an impressive repertoire, one would expect every sports or soccer fan to know Christine Sinclair’s name like they would Pele’s, Messi’s or Ronaldo’s. But many would raise their eyebrows in utter confusion as to who Christine Sinclair is.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Known simply as the “Pocket Rocket” in track and field for her small stature and lightning-quick start out of the blocks, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is one of the greatest performers at the Olympics. In the 100-metre race, which is her signature event, she is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a four-time world champion, while ascertaining an Olympic silver medal in the 200-metre race and the 2013 world championship. The Jamaican sprinter was crowned fastest woman in the world for the fourth time in Doha 2019. Fraser-Pryce is considered the greatest female sprinter of all time and while her records are by no means close to that of Usain Bolt’s, like his 9.58 seconds in the 100-metre dash, she has had a very decorated career and one that is credible enough to earn her spot among the greatest sportspeople of all time.

Simone Biles

Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast with a combined total of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals. Yes, 30 medals. While she is bettered by only Vitaly Scherbo, who has 33 medals and Larisa Latynina, who has 32 medals, she could easily ascertain the record and foreground her place in history as one of the greatest female athletes of all time. She is still only 23 years old and is one of the youngest names on the list.

The Rio Olympics in 2016 was her first appearance in the games and she amassed a total of five medals, four being gold and one bronze. Still not impressed? Bolt won a total of eight Olympic gold medals across 3 Olympic games. That means Biles has won half the number of Olympic Gold Medals Usain Bolt tallied and in 2 less Olympic appearances.

Where does she stand in the general topic of the greatest sportsperson of all time?

Alia Atkinson and Katie Ledecky

When we think of swimming as a sport, the first name that is thought of is Michael Phelps. Undoubtedly, Phelps has earned his reputation as the greatest swimmer in Olympic history. But one name that does not often emerge is that of Alia Atkinson.

In 2018, the Jamaican swimmer broke her own world record that was 28.64 seconds to a whopping 28.56 seconds as she finished ahead of Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova with 29.51 seconds and American swimmer Molly Hannis with 29.22 seconds. Alia Atkinson became the first Jamaican swimmer to win an Olympic medal at the 2020 Olympic Games.

Katie Ledecky is an American swimmer born in 1997. At only 23 years old, Ledecky already has five Olympic gold medals and 15 world championship gold medals, which is currently the most for a female swimmer in the history of the sport. Ledecky is currently the record holder in the women’s 400, 800 and 1500-meter freestyle.

While both athletes have quite some swimming to do to catch up to Michael Phelps, who has 28 medals, 23 of them being gold, undoubtedly their contributions to the sport should not go unrecognized.

While it has been natural for years to associate sports as a male-dominated realm, female athletes have worked hard to achieve their status. Many had to face the onset of traditions and as a result, they had to struggle to get to where they are. Female athletes deserve every bit of respect just the same and perhaps even more. They not only compete against female athletes, but compete for media attention against male athletes. Next time you have a heated debate about the greatest sports athletes, be sure to drop female athletes within the mix.