The $20.3m question: Why does Usain Bolt want to play for Man United?

Roger Blitz has written an interesting story here about how Usain Bolt’s megastardom obscures underlying weakness in track and field athletics.

Set aside its showpiece global events and what is left is a sport struggling for sponsors and broadcasters, participants and a grassroots structure.

The earning power of its elite performers, even Usain Bolt, is small compared with their equivalents in other sports.

This prompted us to check how Bolt’s earnings compare with other top global sports stars. The answer, based on Forbes magazine’s latest ranking of the world’s highest-paid athletes, helps illustrate how far behind track and field has fallen. The Jamaican sprint champion is the only runner in the top 100 at a lowly 63rd. Even among athletes competing in London he ranks just eighth:

Top-earning Olympians at London 2012:

1. LeBron James, Basketball, $53m

2. Roger Federer, Tennis, $52.7m

3. Kobe Bryant, Basketball, $52.3m

4. Maria Sharapova, Tennis, $27.9m

5. Kevin Durant, Basketball, $25.5m

6. Carmelo Anthony, Basketball, $22.9m

7. Novak Djokovic, Tennis, $20.6m

8. Usain Bolt, Athletics, $20.3m

9. Li Na, Tennis, $18.4m

10. Deron Williams, Basketball, $18.2m

(Annual earnings including salary and endorsements, calculated June 2012)

All of this makes us wonder whether Usain might not be joking when he keeps talking about trying his hand at football (the non-American kind). Who could blame him when the Forbes list has David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo both earning twice as much as him at more than $40m a year? Reuters reports that Bolt has been advertising his services again this week to Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson:

If Alex Ferguson called me up and said, ‘OK, let’s do this, come and have a trial and see if you are good enough’ it would be impossible for me to say ‘no’.

“I would not take up the challenge if I didn’t think I was good enough. I am a very accomplished player and know I could make a difference. I would be the fastest player in the team – but I can play as well.”

According to a tweet by United defender Rio Ferdinand tonight, Sir Alex might just take him up on the offer…

@usainbolt the boss has just said for u to let me know when u want to come down for the trial..get your studs ready after the olympics bro!!