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THE 2008 INTERNATIONAL 20

A crash-course in foreign-exchange rates

By Jonah Freedman, SI.com

The foreigners are gaining fast. At a combined $581 million, this year's rundown of the top 20 highest-paid foreign athletes is the heftiest we've ever compiled, and an increase of one-third over the previous year. Why? Sure, soccer and Formula 1 -- the two most popular sports away from American shores -- are beginning to pay off as well, and in many cases better, than U.S.-based leagues. But the weakness of the American dollar has never been on better display in the sports world.

Twelve of the athletes on this year's list earn their paychecks from foreign-based leagues. The British pound has been strong for years, strengthening the earnings of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lewis Hamilton, John Terry and Michael Ballack (as well as Fernando Alonso who, until recently, was part of the McLaren racing team). But the distortion really takes effect with the athletes who are paid in Euros, which have gained 15 percent on the American dollar over the past 12 months -- that's why the likes of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and MotoGP god Valentino Rossi have seen significant bumps.

In all, this year's International 20 features nine soccer players, three Formula 1 racers, three baseball players, two basketball players, two tennis players and one motorcycle racer. For the Fortunate 50 list of the top-earning American athletes, click here.

1
David Beckham
Los Angeles Galaxy (Soccer)
Great Britain
Last Year's Rank: 3
$48,200,000
2
Kimi Räikkönen
Auto Racing
Finland
Last Year's Rank: NR
$46,000,000
3
Ronaldinho
FC Barcelona (Soccer)
Brazil
Last Year's Rank: 2
$37,500,000
4
Lionel Messi
FC Barcelona (Soccer)
Argentina
Last Year's Rank: NR
$35,800,000
5
Roger Federer
Tennis
Switzerland
Last Year's Rank: 3
$35,130,620
6
Fernando Alonso
Auto Racing
Spain
Last Year's Rank: 1
$35,000,000
7
Valentino Rossi
Motor Sports
Italy
Last Year's Rank: 4
$34,000,000
8
Yao Ming
Houston Rockets (NBA)
China
Last Year's Rank: 6
$31,762,775
9
Cristiano Ronaldo
Manchester United (Soccer)
Portugal
Last Year's Rank: NR
$30,300,000
10
Ichiro Suzuki
Seattle Mariners (MLB)
Japan
Last Year's Rank: 7
$27,602,149
11
Lewis Hamilton
Auto Racing
Great Britain
Last Year's Rank: NR
$27,600,000
12
Thierry Henry
FC Barcelona (Soccer)
France
Last Year's Rank: 9
$26,100,000
13
Maria Sharapova
Tennis
Russia
Last Year's Rank: 8
$21,758,550
14
John Terry
Chelsea (Soccer)
Great Britain
Last Year's Rank: 19
$21,600,000
15
Michael Ballack
Chelsea (Soccer)
Germany
Last Year's Rank: 10
$21,500,000
16
Ronaldo
AC Milan (Soccer)
Brazil
Last Year's Rank: 7
$20,800,000
17
Johan Santana
New York Mets (MLB)
Venezuela
Last Year's Rank: NR
$20,750,000
18
Dirk Nowitzki
Dallas Mavericks (NBA)
Germany
Last Year's Rank: 13
$20,360,095
19
Kaká
AC Milan (Soccer)
Brazil
Last Year's Rank: NR
$20,100,000
20
Hideki Matsui
New York Yankees (MLB)
Japan
Last Year's Rank: 8
$19,000,000
 
Sources: salaries, winnings and bonus figures from players' associations, tour records, agents and news reports. Endorsement estimates from Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, other sports-marketing executives and analysts, and agents. Salaries based on current or most recently completed seasons (exception: 2008 for NFL). For winnings-based sports (auto racing, golf, tennis), 2007 calendar year amounts used.
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