Emma Raducanu became one of the latest athletes to receive British honours on November 29th when she was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). A ceremony was held at Windsor Castle, where she was awarded the honour by King Charles III for her excellence in the sport of tennis.
Raducanu saw her career take off in September 2021 when she won the US Open at just 18 years old. She defeated 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez in the final to become the first qualifier to ever win a Grand Slam title. She also became the first British woman to win a Grand Slam since Virginia Wade in 1977.
At the time of her being made an MBE, Raducanu was just 20 years old – meaning she still has her entire career ahead of her. Since turning pro in 2018, she has a 93-44 singles record and her highest world ranking was No. 10 – which she achieved in July 2022. She’s currently ranked No. 76 in the world.
15 Other Athletes to Receive British Honours
Every year, we see hundreds of prominent figures receive British honours for their contributions to their country and community. These people come from a wide range of backgrounds and careers – such as politicians, actors, athletes, and first responders. It’s a worthy accomplishment for anyone born in the UK.
Emma Raducanu is one of the latest athletes to receive British honours, but she’s not the first and certainly won’t be the last. Athletes from a wide range of sports receive British honours every single year – whether it be knighthood, damehood, CBE, OBE, MBE, or BEM. They each serve their own purpose.
While we honor Raducanu for her incredible achievement – at just 20 years old, nonetheless – let’s take a look at some of the other notable athletes to receive British honours in years past. Our list will include athletes from a wide range of sports including football (soccer), cricket, tennis, sailing, boxing, and more!
Pelé wasn’t born in the United Kingdom, so he couldn’t receive an actual knighthood from the Queen. He did, however, receive an honorary knighthood from Her Majesty in 1997 for his dedication to humanitarian and environmental activism – he was an ambassador to the UN and was the Brazilian Ministry of Sport.
Pelé is widely regarded as one of the greatest football (soccer) players of all-time. He scored 77 goals for Brazil’s national team between 1957 and 1971, helping them win three FIFA World Cups. He also scored more than 600 goals for Santos FC between 1956 and 1974. We will never see another player like Pelé.
14. Dame Ellen MacArthur
In late-2004, Dame Ellen MacArthur began her quest to break the world solo record for sailing non-stop around the world. On February 7, 2005, she crossed the finish line and broke the record by more than 32 hours. She was immediately made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).
She’s one of the youngest people to ever receive the honour, doing so before turning 30 years old. In addition to becoming a Dame for her dedication to sailing, MacArthur was given the rank of Honorary Lieutenant Commander, Royal Naval Reserve. Her contribution to both sport and community are obvious.
13. Sir Alastair Cook
Sir Alastair Cook has earned his right to be called a knight. As one of the greatest cricket players the country has ever seen, Cook was originally appointed an MBE in 2011. He was eventually promoted to a CBE five years later before finally being appointed a Knight Bachelor at the 2019 New Years Honours.
Cook represented England on the national side between 2006 and 2018 – he’s the country’s second most-capped player in cricket history and is a former captain. He’s the only English player to win 50 Test matches, has more Test centuries than any other English player, and holds a number of other records.
12. Sir Mo Farah
Sir Mo Farah is one of the greatest long-distance runners of all-time. He won four gold medals at the Olympics and six gold medals at the World Championships, making him the most accomplished British track athlete and most decorated long distance runner ever. He shined at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
Farah was honored by Queen Elizabeth for his services to athletics. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2013 before receiving his knighthood from Her Majesty as part of the 2017 New Years Honours. He was born in Somaliland, but was trafficked to London and forced to work.
11. Anthony Joshua OBE
Anthony Joshua is one of the greatest boxers of this generation, despite his recent struggles against Oleksandr Usyk. Joshua was 24-1 as of December 2020, but has lost his last two fights – both vs. Usyk. Nonetheless, he’s a two-time former unified world heavyweight champion and one of England’s finest.
After winning an Olympic gold medal in 2012, Joshua was recognized as an Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). Most recently, he was promoted to Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2018 by then-Prince, now-King Charles. He is four months removed from his last fight with nothing scheduled right now.
10. Harry Kane MBE
Harry Kane is the current captain of England’s national football (soccer) team – he also plays for Tottenham Hotspur of the Premier League. He’s currently tied for the most international goals in England history and has the second-most goals in Tottenham history – if you didn’t know, he likes to score goals.
Kane was named a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2019 after leading England to the semifinals of the World Cup and winning the tournament’s golden boot. He was presented the honour by Prince William. England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, was made an OBE that same year.
9. Gareth Bale MBE
Gareth Bale is the current captain of Wales’ national football (soccer) team – he plays for Los Angeles FC of the MLS, but also has a history with Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid. Many experts would agree that he’s one of the best Welsh players of all-time and one of the best wingers in the world today.
Bale was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Birthday Honours List in 2022. He was being honored for both his services in football and charity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bale donated €1 million to hospitals across his home country and in Spain.
8. Rory McIlroy MBE
Rory McIlroy is currently the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world and has now held that title for 114 total weeks since turning pro in 2007. He has 35 professional wins under his belt, four major championships, and three FedEx Championships. He was born in Northern Ireland and represents his hometown well.
McIlroy was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2012 after winning the 2011 US Open in record fashion – 16-under. “I am delighted to be named in the Queen’s New Year Honours list. It is quite humbling to be included in such a list of worthy recipients,” the 22-year-old said at the time.
7. David Beckham OBE
David Beckham is one of the most iconic and legendary footballers of his generation. He is widely known for winning titles in four different countries – including Spain, the US, France, and England. He scored 17 goals in 115 appearances for England’s national team between 1996 and 2009 – he was fun to watch.
Beckham was recognized as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in November 2003 – one day after scoring a goal for Real Madrid in what became a signature free kick. “This is probably the best I’ve received so far. It’s an amazing day for me,” the footballer said of his accomplishment, at the time.
6. Marcus Rashford MBE
Marcus Rashford is a current forward for England’s national team and has been since 2016 – he also plays for Manchester United of the Premier League. In 51 international appearances for England, Rashford has scored 15 goals, but don’t worry, he still has a lot more to give at just 25 years old.
Rashford was recognized as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2021 for his dedication to helping vulnerable children during the COVID-19 pandemic – he was just 24 years old at the time. “Thank you for making the day so special for me and mum. Very proud,” he said, with his mother in attendance.
5. Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill
Jessica Ennis-Hill is a former track-and-field athlete who specialized in the 100m hurdles, heptathlon, and pentathlon. She won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics and silver medal at the 2016 Olympics – she also won three gold medals at the World Championships. She now runs fitness and women’s health apps.
In 2017, Ennis-Hill was recognized as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) as part of the New Years Honours list. She will forever be remembered as the poster child for England athletics at the 2012 Olympics and was known for her competitiveness and unwillingness to quit.
4. Dame Kelly Holmes
Kelly Holmes was a track-and-field athlete who specialized in middle-distance events – including the 600m, 800m, 1,000m, and 1,500m events. After winning a bronze medal for the 800m at the 2000 Olympics, Holmes won a gold medal in both the 800m and 1,500m at the ensuing 2004 Olympics.
Holmes has been recognized as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) since 2005 – the same year she retired from sport. She was also appointed Honorary Colonel of the Royal Armoured Corps Training Regiment in 2018 and is quite the accomplished motivational speaker today.
3. Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson is one of the most iconic and legendary football (soccer) managers of all-time, best known for his time with Manchester United between 1986 and 2013. He won 38 trophies with the club and has more trophies than any other manager in football history. There’s no denying his legacy in the sport.
In fact, his contributions to the sport have earned him numerous accolades with the Royal Family. He was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1985, a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1995, and a Knight Bachelor in 1999 as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
2. Sir Andy Murray
Sir Andy Murray is one of the greatest tennis players to hail from Great Britain, turning pro in 2005 and earning a 717-232 singles record ever since. He has won 48 singles titles and three Grand Slam titles during his career, spending a strong majority of 2008 through 2017 ranked top-ten in the entire world.
Murray was recognized as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2012 after winning his first Grand Slam title and Olympic gold medal. He was knighted by then-Prince, now-King Charles in 2016 following his third and most recent Grand Slam title and his second Olympic gold medal for Great Britain.
1. Sir Lewis Hamilton
Sir Lewis Hamilton is one of the greatest Formula 1 racers of all-time – and he has no plans of stopping anytime soon. He currently races for Mercedes and has won seven World Drivers’ Championship titles since joining the league in 2007. He also has the most wins, poles, podiums, and so much more.
Hamilton received his knighthood in 2021 after winning his seventh World Championship in 2020 – tying a record held by Michael Schumacher. He was originally made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2009 following his first World Championship win in 2008. Can he win his eighth title?
Have Athletes Ever Refused British Honours?
Being made a knight, dame, CBE, OBE, MBE, or BEM is a major accomplishment in the United Kingdom, but not everyone nominated feels the same way. In fact, there have been a wide range of people to refuse their British honours – athletes included – due to personal, political, categorical, or historical reasons.
For example, Howard Gayle refused his nomination for MBE because “it would be a betrayal to all the Africans who have lost their lives, or who suffered as a result of Empire.” Gayle was born in England, but was of African descent and felt his ‘ancestors would be turning in their graves’ if he accepted the MBE.
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Two other athletes to refuse Royal or British honours include Richie McCaw, who refused a potential knighthood, and Peter Alliss, turned down an OBE nomination. Bill Woodfull refused a knighthood for cricket, but accepted a knighthood for teaching nearly 30 years after his first nomination in 1934.
20 of the Greatest British Athletes of All-Time
Sports have played a vital role in the history and culture of Great Britain, but have you ever wondered who the greatest British athletes of all-time might be? Believe it or not, it’s not an easy question to answer – especially considering the number of British athletes that have impressed us through the years.
If you largely focus on American sports, you’ll be surprised to learn that some of the most popular sports in the US aren’t as popular in Great Britain. For example, baseball and basketball are considered minor sports in Great Britain and, while ice hockey and American football are growing, they’re still fairly minor.
With that said, some of the most popular sports among British fans include football (soccer), cricket, rugby, field hockey, tennis, track and field (known as ‘athletics’), snooker, boxing, and motor racing. This is important to keep in mind when trying to figure out who the greatest British athletes of all-time are.
Who Are the Greatest British Athletes of All-Time?
The greatest British athletes of all-time are often treated like royalty in Great Britain – both figuratively and literally. While many fans place them on a pedestal, much like American athletes in the United States, some of the more revered British athletes actually receive British honours from the active King or Queen.
With so much history to cover, it’s nearly impossible to narrow a list of greatest British athletes of all-time down to just 20. Not only that, but everyone is going to have their own opinions about who they think deserves to be on that list. With that said, it’s natural to leave a few worthy names off your top-20 all-time.
For example, there are a few names off the top of my head that won’t be featured on this list, but certainly deserve to be considered – such as Laura Kenny, Jason Kenny, Phil Taylor, Sarah Storey, Nicola Adams, Jonny Wilkinson, James Anderson, Kelly Holmes, Bradley Wiggins, and Adam Peaty.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at 20 of the greatest British athletes of all-time – in no particular order.
20. Sir Nick Faldo
Sir Nick Faldo is a retired golfer who made his professional debut in 1976 and played in his final tournament in 2015 – he didn’t play much between 2005 and 2015. He retired with 43 wins under his belt, including 30 on the European Tour and nine on the PGA Tour – six of which were major championships.
Faldo won the Masters Tournament three times – 1989, 1990, and 1996 – and The Open Championship three times – 1987, 1990, and 1992 – in his career. He was the No. 1 golfer in the world for a total of 97 weeks and is one of just three golfers to remain No. 1 in the world for an entire calendar year (1993).
19. Lord Sebastian Coe
Lord Sebastian Coe is a retired track and field athlete who specialized in middle-distance running. He represented Great Britain in the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games, where he won a combined four medals – two gold medals (800m, 1500m) and two silver medals (800m, 1500m). He was also a politician.
Commonly referred to as Seb Coe, he set multiple outdoor and indoor records during his athletics career. In 1979, he set three world records in the span of just over one month. He also set a world record for the 800m in 1981, which ended up standing until 1997. He also won a gold medal at the 1981 World Cup.
18. Daley Thompson, CBE
Daley Thompson, CBE is a retired decathlete. The decathlon is a track and field event where each athlete competes in 10 different events – the 100m, 400m, 1500m, 110m hurdles, long jump, high jump, pole vault, discus throw, javelin throw, and shotput. He represented Great Britain for more than 10 years.
Thompson competed in four consecutive Olympic Games between 1976 and 1988, winning a gold medal in the decathlon in 1980 and 1984 – he placed 18th in 1976 and 4th in 1988. His personal best was 8,847 points, which is just 279 points off the world record. He also won a gold at the World Championships.
17. Fred Perry
Fred Perry is a retired tennis player and table tennis player. He turned professional in 1936 and retired in 1959. During that time, he had a 695-281 singles record with 62 career singles titles and eight Grand Slam singles titles. He also won two Grand Slam doubles titles and five Grand Slam mixed doubles titles.
In Grand Slam singles tournaments, he won the Australian Open in 1934 and the French Open in 1935. He was also a three-time Wimbledon champion – 1934, 1935, 1936 – and three-time US Open champion – 1933, 1934, 1936. Not only that, but he won the US Pro in 1938 and 1941 – a two-time Pro Slam champion.
16. Sir Chris Hoy MBE
Sir Chris Hoy MBE is a retired track cyclist who represented Great Britain – he was born in Scotland – in four consecutive Olympic games. He secured his first Olympic medal in 2000, winning a silver medal in the Team Sprint event, but would go on to win at least one gold medal in each of the next three Olympics.
His first gold medal came in 2004 in the 1,000m Time Trial event – he also placed fifth in the Team Sprint. In 2008, he won three gold medals in the Sprint, Team Sprint, and Keirin events. He followed that up with two more gold medals in 2012 in the Keirin and Team Sprint events – totaling six career gold medals.
15. Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill
Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill is a retired track and field athlete who competed in a number of events during her career – including the heptathlon, pentathlon, and 100m hurdles. She represented Great Britain in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, winning a gold medal and silver medal in the heptathlon in her career.
She has quite the heptathlon resume, which includes three gold medals at the World Championships (2009, 2011, and 2015) and one gold medal at the European Championships (2010). She used to hold the British record in the heptathlon, as well as the 100m hurdles and high jump. She really could do it all.
14. Tanni Grey-Thompson
The Right Honourable Tanni Grey-Thompson is a retired wheelchair racer who represented Great Britain – she was born in Wales – in five consecutive Paralympic Games between 1988 and 2004. During her time in the Paralympics, she won one bronze medal, four silver medals, and 11 gold medals.
She was as versatile as it gets, winning gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 400m, and 800m during her career – including a gold medal in all four events in 1992 and 2000. Grey-Thompson had been in a wheelchair since she was 7 due to spina bifida. She also played wheelchair basketball in her earlier years.
13. Joe Calzaghe CBE
Joe Calzaghe CBE is a retired boxer who was born in Britain, but raised in Wales. He made his pro boxing debut on November 10, 1993 and fought his final bout on November 8, 2008. During his 15-year career, Calzaghe had a perfect 46-0-0 record with 32 of those wins coming via knockout.
Calzaghe was a two-division champion in the super-middleweight and light-heavyweight classes. He had most of his success in the super-middleweight division, where he was a unified and lineal champion. He’s the longest-reigning super-middleweight champion of all-time – he was WBO champion for a decade.
12. AP McCoy OBE
Sir Anthony Peter McCoy OBE is a retired horse racing jockey and one of the most dominant horse racing jockeys of all-time. He rode a record 4,358 winners during his career with his first win coming in 1992 (at just 17 years old) and his final win coming in 2015 (at 39 years old). He never stopped winning.
He was also a Champion Jockey 20 years in a row, beginning in 1995-96 and continuing all the way up until his retirement. If there was a big race to be won, he was going to win it – and he did. In fact, he was so good that he won BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2010 – becoming the first jockey to ever win it.
11. Ronnie O’Sullivan
Ronnie O’Sullivan is a professional snooker player and one of the greatest snooker players of all-time. He turned professional in 1992 at the age of 16 and continues to terrorize opponents to this day – not only is he the current world champion, but he’s currently the No. 1 player in the world. He’s a joy to watch!
When it comes to snooker, there are three major tournaments – known as the Triple Crown – a player can win. O’Sullivan has won each of those tournaments seven times for a total of 21 Triple Crown titles, which is unheard of in the sport. He has won the World Championship in 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2020, and 2022.
10. Sir Andy Murray OBE
Sir Andy Murray OBE is a professional tennis player who turned professional in 2005 and continues to play at a semi-high level at 35 years old. He has won a total of $63,535,777 during his pro career, which currently ranks 4th all-time among players – behind Roger Federer, Roger Nadal, and Novak Djokovic.
Murray has a career 725-236 singles record with 46 career singles titles – which currently ranks 15th all-time. He’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist (2012, 2016), two-time Wimbledon champion (2013, 2016), and won the US Open in 2012. He first achieved No. 1 player in the world on November 7, 2016.
9. Sir Mo Farah CBE OLY
Sir Mo Farah CBE OLY is a legendary long distance runner in three consecutive Olympic Games – where he won four gold medals. He won two gold medals in the 5,000m and 10,000m events in 2012 and followed that up with two more gold medals in the same events in 2016 – the second runner to defend both in consecutive years.
Farah also won six gold medals at the World Championships between 2011 and 2017 – as well as two silver medals – and five gold medals at the European Championships between 2010 and 2014. He’s easily the most successful and dominant long distance runner in the history of the sport.
8. Lennox Lewis CM CBE
Lennox Lewis CM CBE is a retired boxer who made his professional debut on July 21, 1989 and fought his final bout on June 21, 2003. During his 14-year career, he had a 41-2-1 record with 32 of those wins coming by way of knockout. He’s easily one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all-time.
One of the most feared heavyweights of his generation, Lewis was a three-time champion that held the lineal championship twice and was the most recent heavyweight to be named the unified champion of the world. He also won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul as a super-heavyweight.
7. Ian Botham OBE
The Right Honourable Ian Botham OBE is a retired cricketer who’s widely considered to be one of the greatest all-round cricketers of all-time. He made his debut for England in 1976 and competed nationally for 16 years until his retirement in 1992. He was effective in both Test and One-Day International formats.
In Test formats, he recorded 5,200 runs, 33.54 average, 14 100s and 22 50s in 102 matches as a batsman, and also bowled 21,815 balls and 383 wickets in 168 innings. He also had 2,113 runs, 23.21 average, and 9 50s in 116 matches, and bowled 6,271 balls and 145 wickets in 115 innings.
6. Sir Steven Redgrave CBE DL
Sir Steven Redgrave CBE DL is a retired rower who represented Great Britain in five consecutive Olympic Games between 1984 and 2000. With five Olympic gold medals and one Olympic bronze medal, Redgrave is the most successful rower in Olympic history – he won a gold medal in each Olympics he appeared in.
In addition to his Olympic success, Redgrave won nine gold medals, two silver medals, and one bronze medal at the World Championships between 1986 and 1999 – as well as three gold medals representing England at the Commonwealth Games. He won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year – Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
5. Paula Radcliffe MBE
Paula Radcliffe MBE is a retired track and field athlete who specialized in long distance running. While she never won a medal in the Olympics, she did win a gold medal at the 2005 World Championships, a gold medal at the 2002 European Championships, and a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.
If there was a marathon to be won, Radcliffe was going to win it. She won the London Marathon three times in a four-year span, the New York Marathon three times in a five-year span, and the Chicago Marathon in 2002. She held the world record for fastest marathon time by a female for 16 years.
4. Sir Bobby Charlton CBE
Sir Bobby Charlton is a retired footballer who is widely considered one of the greatest to ever play the game. He spent a few years with Manchester United during his youth career before moving on up to their senior team – where he spent the next 17 years and appeared in more than 600 matches for the team.
He also played in over 100 matches for England and scored 49 career international goals. With England, he won the 1966 FIFA World Cup – the same year he won the Ballon d’Or. He would go on to be named Ballon d’Or runner-up in the next two seasons. He also won the UEFA Champions League in 1968.
3. Bobby Moore OBE
Bobby Moore OBE is a retired footballer who captained the England squad that won the 1966 FIFA World Cup – he was teammates with Sir Bobby Charlton. Moore spent a few years with West Ham United during his youth career before moving on up to their senior team, where he spent the next 16 years.
Moore is widely considered to be one of the greatest defenders in football history. He played in more than 600 matches for West Ham United and more than 100 matches for Team England. He was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1966 and was later inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
2. Tyson Fury
Tyson Fury is an active boxer who made his professional debut on January 17, 2009 and fought his most recent bout on December 3, 2022. He has a 33-0-1 record in 34 professional bouts during his 13-year career, with his only draw coming against Deontay Wilder on December 1, 2018 in a split-decision call.
Fury was once the unified heavyweight champion in 2015 and has been the current WBC heavyweight champion since 2020 – he has successfully defended that championship three times against Deontay Wilder, Dillian Whyte, and Derek Chisora. He also won a gold medal at the English National Championships.
1. Sir Lewis Hamilton MBE HonFREng
Lewis Hamilton is an active professional racing driver who has been competing in Formula 1 since 2007. Not only is he considered one of the greatest F1 drivers of all-time, but he’s considered one of, if not the greatest British athlete of all-time. In 312 Formula 1 starts, he has won a total of 103 races in his career.
Hamilton holds several all-time records in Formula 1 – including wins (103), pole positions (103), and podium finishes (191). One of his most impressive records is his seven World Drivers’ Championship titles, which is tied with Michael Schumacher. He will look to add to that total in the near future.
Who Are Your Favorite British Athletes of All-Time?
Our list of the greatest British athletes of all-time wasn’t easy to create. There were a lot of names that we didn’t get to honor, despite being deserving of the distinction. To be honest, we could’ve had this list made up exclusively of football (soccer) athletes if we wanted to – that’s how many quality players there are.
Nonetheless, we tried our best to include as many different sports as possible to ensure the entirety of British sports history was represented. Of course, we also understand that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and everyone has their personal favorites that they’ve enjoyed watching or learning about.
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Some of the others that didn’t quite make our list include CharlotteEdwards, MichaelBisping, AnthonyJoshua, RebeccaAdlington, BobbyMoore, WayneRooney, AudleyHarrison, LucyShuker, and more. With that said, the real question is who your personal favorite British athletes of all-time are.
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