It would take something more dramatic than a year on the sidelines to keep tennis legend Serena Williams down. Despite 12 months away from the game, during which time she has turned 40, Serena is still by far and away the world’s most influential sportswoman.
That’s according to research carried out by Fourfive on the basis of social media followers and Wikipedia views. Let’s take a look at how Serena continues to inspire – and at who else made the list.
A voice for generations
Serena has often been called the voice of a generation, but it would be more accurate to call her the voice of generations. Gender and racial inequality are issues in many sports, but especially tennis, a game traditionally associated with white middle classes, at grass roots level. Serena and Venus Williams have inspired generations of African American girls to take up the game. But along the way, Serena has also been outspoken about childbirth, breast feeding, mental health and a host of other matters.
Serena is also an astute businesswoman. But even at 40 and having not played competitively in 12 months, it’s still her tennis that comes first. Wimbledon 2022 came alive when it was announced Serena had been given a wild card and fans betting online have been quick to grab the +1800 odds on offer.
Ronda Rousey – a new type of athlete
Serena is one of four tennis players in Fourfive’s top 10 list. But there is one athlete who has more social media followers than any of them and that’s MMA fighter Ronda Rousey. Like Serena, she’s inspiring different generations for different reasons now that she is in her late 30s and all the talk is of a potential comeback after time out to have a baby last year.
But beyond that, Rousey has demonstrated that anyone can stand up and be a fighter, being the first woman to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Simone Biles – more than just an athlete
With 32 Olympic and Championship medals, nobody would dispute that Simone Biles is one of the most talented and inspiring athletes of all time. Yet her achievements in gymnastics pale almost into insignificance in comparison to her influence in giving a voice to those living with mental health challenges.
Biles has spoken openly about battling her own demons, and her phrase “it’s ok not to be ok” is a sentiment we can all get behind. Her outspokenness and willingness to pull out of the Tokyo Olympics has inspired other athletes to prioritise their health over athletic performance.
Alex Morgan – the most followed footballer
Football – in the European sense of the word – is the most popular sport on the planet. The women’s game has surged over the past decade and is now attracting the sponsorship, media attention and grass roots support that it deserves.
Much of the credit for that can go to Alex Morgan. As well as being one of the game’s great natural talents, she has raised the profile of women’s football through her shrewd business sense and endorsement deals.