Asian Games 2018

Crazy Rich Asians: Kei Nishikori, Virat Kohli, Masahiro Tanaka and the continent’s highest-paid sports stars

Despite Asian athletes being underrepresented on the annual rich list there are plenty of big earners on the field and in the boardrooms of the sports world

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 8:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 10:50am

The world is going wild for box office smash Crazy Rich Asians, the film based on the book by Kevin Kwan, and the sporting world has its own, despite the continent being massively underrepresented on the global power list published by Forbes.

The latest list was updated in June and there were only a handful of Asian names in the top 100 highest paid athletes.

Japanese tennis player Kei Nishikori was the highest among them at 35th (US$34.6 million) with Indian cricketer Virat Kohli in 83rd (US$24 million) and Japan’s New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka in 95th (US$23.1 million) – the highest paid player of the MLB's current Asian contingent but sill way off Ichiro Suzuki's nearly US$170 million career earnings.

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There are other athletes with connections to the continent among the top 100.

Tiger Woods (16th on the list, US$43.3 million), who is set to play Phil Mickelson for US$9 million over Thanksgiving weekend, has Asian heritage from his Thai mother, while Brazilian footballer Oscar (56th, US$27.4 million) earns most of his money by playing for Shanghai SIPG in the Chinese Super League.

Dwyane Wade (42nd, US$31.8 million) may be out of contract after walking away from the NBA but he can still make plenty of money from Chinese sportswear sponsors Li-Ning.

He signed a deal with them in 2012 after leaving the Nike-owned Jordan brand and, in February, Forbes listed the Miami Heat star as joint sixth on its list of NBA players who earn the most from endorsements.

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Swimmer Sun Yang was the only athlete on Forbes China list which was published last September.

The Asian Games and Olympics star made an estimated 60 million yuan (US$9 million) in earnings last year to get him on the acting-dominated rundown.

Presumably Sun will earn more this year after his four golds in the pool in Indonesia, while there is also strong earning potential for the likes of Houston Rockets Zhou Qi and Dallas Mavericks guard Ding Yanyuhang if they can become regulars in the NBA like Yao Ming before them.

The retired Yao earned well over US$100 million during his Houston Rockets career, with his fortune estimated to be well beyond that now after several investments.

Asian-American Jeremy Lin, whose career blew up during 2012’s “Linsanity” period, also has earnings of over US$100 million, despite a limited number of commercial deals and ever-decreasing contracts.

Forbes recently listed the top earning female sports stars – not one of their earlier top 100 was a woman – and India’s PV Sindhu was seventh in the top 10.

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Sindhu was the only Asian on a list headed by Serena Williams (US$18.1 million) and dominated by tennis stars – only the badminton star and American Nascar driver Danica Patrick are not tennis players.

The 23-year-old, who won a silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games this week, earned US$8.5 million, with Forbes stating that only US$500,000 came from prize money, with the rest from endorsements.

While Asia may be underrepresented on these lists it dominates the e-sports earnings, which is made up mostly of China-based players on Dota and League of Legends.

Saudi Arabian teen MSDossary won the Fifa 18 e-World Cup this month and with it US$250,000 in prize money.

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Until the world of e-sports grows to its undoubted potential, it’s behind the scenes where the real money is – with the club owners.

Chinese billionaires Jack Ma (US$38. 6 billion) and Hui Ka-yan (US$42.5 billion) co-own Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao through their companies, while

Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin (US$25.2 billion) took over Dalian Yifang after selling his Atletico Madrid stake earlier in the year.

Wanda were one of the main sponsors of the Fifa World Cup in Russia this summer.

Fellow CSL chairman Jiang Lianzhang of Chongqing Lifan has interests in Italian Serie A side Parma, Spanish club Granada and the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.

Rakuten owner Hiroshi Mikitani (US$4.9 billion) also owns Japanese J. League side Vissel Kobe, who beat the Chongqing club to former Barcelona star Andres Iniesta this summer.

Iniesta must be the richest footballer playing in Asia right now, but there is an Asian playing in the English Premier League footballer who is worth more and it’s not South Korea’s Son Heung-min, despite signing an improved Spurs contract during the summer and being one of the most marketable players on the continent.

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Instead, the title goes to Faiq Bolkiah, a reserve team winger at Leicester City, who is also the nephew of the Sultan of Brunei whose fortune is estimated to be US$20 billion.

The 20-year-old is a Brunei international, choosing them over the USA where he was born.

Last season he played five times for the under-23s in the Uefa Youth League, so as much as he wants to shed the tag and be known as a footballer first and foremost, that’s a long way off.