Usman, Jabeur, no Salah: Naming the GOAT African athletes of every major sport

The greatest African athletes ever

Over the years, many of the finest athletes of all time have hailed from Africa. 

It’s a continent rich with sporting history and has birthed numerous champions as well as heroic figures in almost every major sport. 

Perhaps the most recent to emerge is Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur –– who is the highest-ranked African player in the sport’s history. 

Jabeur has won three WTA titles and reached the final of both Wimbledon and the US Open this year. 

The 28-year-old is widely considered to be the greatest African tennis player ever and she was named the Arab Woman of the Year back in 2019. 

With this in mind, we at GiveMeSport Women have decided to look at the greatest African athletes in almost every major sport. 

To clarify, while the likes of Usain Bolt and Giannis Antetokounmpo both have some African heritage, we’re looking at sportspeople who were born on the continent. 

This list is subjective and as such, we’ve included a number of athletes as honourable mentions. 

Check our list of African GOATs below: 

Usain Bolt celebrating

Tennis – Ons Jabeur 

Currently ranked second in the world, Jabeur is the highest-ranked African tennis player, male or female, of all time. 

The Tunisian is still searching for her first major title but it seems inevitable that this will come at some point. 

Ons Jabeur celebrating

Football – George Weah

Africa has produced some exceptional footballers over the years. 

Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Yaya Toure are all legends of the game, while Mo Salah and Sadio Mane are among the best players to have ever graced the Premier League. 

However, our vote goes to Liberian icon George Weah. The former AC Milan and Chelsea star is the only African player to have won the Ballon d’Or and was also named the Africa Footballer of the Year on three occasions.

George Weah for AC Milan

Rugby Union – Francois Pienaar

Pienaar is most famous for being captain of the South African team that won the 1995 Rugby World Cup. 

It was the first time South Africa had won the Webb Ellis trophy and came during the Apartheid era. 

Pienaar’s heroics are depicted in the film Invictus, which focuses on the story of the 1995 World Cup. 

Francois Pienaar

Cricket – Jacques Kallis 

South Africa has produced a number of talented bowlers and batters over the years but Kallis was outstanding at both. 

He remains the only cricketer ever to score more than 10,000 runs and take over 250 wickets in both Test and ODI cricket. 

Similarly, all-rounder Marizanne Kapp is also worthy of a mention. The 32-year-old has scored more than 3,000 international runs and taken more than 200 wickets for South Africa. 

Jacques Kallis

Athletics – Eliud Kipchoge 

Africa is famous for producing the best distance runners in the world and Kenya’s Kipchoge is the best there’s ever been. 

Kipchoge is the 2016 and 2020 Olympic marathon champion and holds the marathon world record with a time of two hours, one minute and 39 seconds. 

Aside from Kipchoge, South Africa’s Caster Semenya is a two-time Olympic gold medallist and three-time World Champion in the women’s 800m. 

However, Semenya has been unable to compete in recent years because World Athletics have deemed her testosterone levels to be too high. 


Boxing – Azumah Nelson 

Ghana’s Nelson competed from 1979 to 2008 and is a two-weight world champion.

Nelson held the WBC featherweight title from 1984 to 1987 and the WBC super-featherweight title between 1988 and 1997. 

He finished with 39 wins and 28 knock-outs from 47 professional fights. 

Azumah Nelson fighting

MMA – Kamaru Usman 

Israel Adesanya and Francis Nnganou are two of the biggest names in the UFC world, but Usman became the first-ever African champion when he defeated Tyron Woodley for the Welterweight Championship at UFC 235. 

Usman defended the belt on five occasions, beating Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal on two occasions, as well as Gilbert Burns.

Kamaru Usman, Leon Edwards

Netball – Irene van Dyk 

The South-African born goal-shooter is the most capped international netball player of all-time, having competed for both South Africa and New Zealand. 

Van Dyk has been credited with single-handedly changing the way netball is played and has contributed massively to its growing popularity. 

van Dyk

Basketball – Hakeem Olajuwon 

Considered one of basketball’s best centres, Olajuwon led the Houston Rockets to back-to-back NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995. 

Named the NBA Finals MVP on two occasions, the Nigerian-born star was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2008. 


F1 – Jody Scheckter

Born in South Africa, Scheckter won the F1 Drivers’ Championship in 1979 with Ferrari and remains the only African world champion. 

Scheckter won 10 races in total throughout his career and achieved 33 podium finishes.

Golf – Gary Player

Player won nine major championships in total, including all four on at least one occasion. 

The South African became the third golfer in history to achieve the Career Grand Slam and won more than 150 tournaments in total.

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