GOAT meaning: what does the term G.O.A.T. mean in sport - why Lionel Messi and Pelé are often called it

Serena Williams, Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods and Simone Biles are often talked about as the greatest of all time

You may have watched the FIFA World Cup 2022 this year in Qatar, where Argentina took the trophy, and among the names that floated about was that of player Lionel Messi. He was dubbed the greatest player of all time as he led the team to victory.

The 35-year-old seven-time Ballon d'Or winner was often downgraded against his compatriots Diego Maradona or Brazil's Pele due to his lack of win at the major tournament. But he finally had a chance to remedy this, although his achievements already include 35 trophies with Barcelona, last season's French title with Paris St-Germain and the 2021 Copa America with Argentina.

As a result he is among a few that is referred to as the GOAT - but what does G.O.A.T. mean in sport? Let’s find out...

What does GOAT mean?

When it comes to sport, G.O.A.T. is an acronym which stands for Greatest Of All Time. If someone is called a GOAT then it is a reflection of their sporting ability and is often reserved for those who are regarded as the best in their field.

Lionel Messi holds the FIFA World Cup (Getty Images)

To become a GOAT, or talked about in the same breath as other high performers, athletes have to reach certain criteria such as be the best in their era and every other era before and after. During the excitement of sporting achievement - be it scoring a goal, taking a wicket, throwing a touchdown pass, among others - fans are quick to praise and the term has been popularised.

GOAT contenders in team sports often carry their team to titles while the moniker in individual sports is reserved for those who have claimed the most wins in major tournaments. Responses of ‘GOAT’ or an emoji of a goat to great passages of play or victories are common.

When was the ‘greatest of all time’ first coined?

Who else than the self proclaimed greatest? It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that the phrase - greatest of all time - was first coined by Muhammad Ali. It was popularised by the great boxer following his victory over George Foreman in 1974.

American boxer Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) training with a speed bag ahead (R McPhedran/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images))

“I told you today, I’m still the greatest of all time," Ali said. "Never again defeat me. Never again say that I’m going to be defeated. Never again make me the underdog until I’m about 50 years old. Then you might get me."

Which sports stars are regarded as GOATs in their sport?

Tom Brady’s achievements are there for all to see. The seven time Super Bowl winner is undoubtedly one of the most successful players the NFL has ever seen, maybe even the greatest quarterback to have taken the field and rightly in conversation for the title. Brady retired from the NFL earlier this year, leading to many people discussing the quarterback’s long standing career and his achievements over 20 years.

His association with the NFL’s big game, in which he won with the New England Patriots (6) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, clearly places Brady among the greatest ever players. No player has more wins at the Super Bowl than Brady.

Tennis great Rafael Nadal raised the bar in early 2022 when he claimed a 21st Grand Slam title by winning the Australian Open to take him ahead of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

Serena Williams of the United States reacts in the third set against Ajla Tomlijanovic of Australia (Getty Images)

But he is still behind Serena Williams who has 23 Grand Slam titles in a career which revolutionised women’s tennis - no other player has won more in the open era than Serena.

James Anderson (640) and Stuart Broad (537) have taken the most Test wickets for England’s men’s side, but that’s still not good enough to get them on the plane to the West Indies.

While the greatest footballer debate can get heated as passionate fans discuss who has the edge between Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona, Pele and more...

Players regarded GOATs of their sport

  • Baseball: Babe Ruth
  • Boxing: Muhammad Ali
  • Cricket: Don Bradman
  • Darts: Phil Taylor
  • Golf: Tiger Woods
  • Gymnastics: Simone Biles
  • Ice Hockey: Wayne Gretzky
  • Rugby Union: Richie McCaw/Jonah Lomu/Gareth Edwards
  • Skateboarding: Tony Hawk
  • Swimming: Michael Phelps
  • Track and field: Usain Bolt/Jackie Joyner-Kersee