Football writer Grant Wahl dies suddenly at World Cup game in Qatar

'No writer in the history of Sports Illustrated has been more passionate about the sport he loved and the stories he wanted to tell'
Football writer Grant Wahl dies suddenly at World Cup game in Qatar

Grant Wahl at work after the World Cup game between Wales and the US in Qatar. He had been detained earlier by stadium security for wearing a rainbow-colored t-shirt before later being allowed to enter the stadium. 

Grant Wahl, one of the best-known football writers in the United States, died late Friday while covering the World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and the Netherlands. He was 48.

American media seated near him said Wahl fell back in his seat in a section of Lusail Iconic Stadium reserved for journalists during extra time of the game, and reporters adjacent to him called for assistance. Emergency services workers responded very quickly, and the reporters later were told that Wahl had died.

“He received immediate emergency medical treatment on site, which continued as he was transferred by ambulance to Hamad General Hospital,” the World Cup organising committee said in a statement, which did not attribute a cause of death. “We are in touch with the US Embassy and relevant local authorities to ensure the process of repatriating the body is in accordance with the family’s wishes.” 

Wahl celebrated his 48th birthday on Wednesday.

“We could always count on Grant to deliver insightful and entertaining stories about our game, and its major protagonists,” the US Soccer Federation said in a statement. “Grant’s belief in the power of the game to advance human rights was, and will remain, an inspiration to all. Grant made soccer his life’s work, and we are devastated that he and his brilliant writing will no longer be with us.” 

Wahl was covering his eighth World Cup. He wrote Monday on his website that he had visited a medical clinic while in Qatar.

“My body finally broke down on me. Three weeks of little sleep, high stress and lots of work can do that to you,” Wahl wrote. “What had been a cold over the last 10 days turned into something more severe on the night of the USA-Netherlands game, and I could feel my upper chest take on a new level of pressure and discomfort.” Wahl wrote that he tested negative for COVID-19 and sought treatment for his symptoms.

“I went into the medical clinic at the main media center today, and they said I probably have bronchitis. They gave me a course of antibiotics and some heavy-duty cough syrup, and I’m already feeling a bit better just a few hours later. But still: No bueno,” he wrote.

Wahl wore a rainbow T-shirt in support of LGBTQ rights to the United States’ World Cup opener against Wales on Nov. 21 and wrote that security refused him entry and told him to remove the shirt. Gay and lesbian sex is criminalised in Qatar.

Grant Wahl said he was briefly detained for wearing a rainbow shirt while covering the World Cup in Qatar.

Wahl wrote he was detained for 25 minutes at Ahmed Bin Ali stadium in Al Rayyan, then was let go by a security commander. Wahl said FIFA apologised to him.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted early Saturday: “We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Grant Wahl and send our condolences to his family, with whom we have been in close communication. We are engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.” 

Wahl is survived by his wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, an associate professor at New York University School of Medicine, attending physician at Bellevue Hospital Center and CBS News contributor.

Gounder tweeted that she was thankful for the support of her husband’s “soccer family” and friends who had reached out.

“I’m in complete shock,” she wrote.

Among Wahl’s work before he began covering soccer exclusively was a Sports Illustrated cover story about LeBron James in 2002, when James was a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High in Akron, Ohio.

“He was always pretty cool to be around. He spent a lot of time in my hometown of Akron,” James said in Philadelphia after the Los Angeles Lakers lost in overtime to the 76ers. “Any time his name would come up, I’ll always think back to me as a teenager having Grant in our building down at St. V’s. It’s a tragic loss. It’s unfortunate to lose someone as great as he was. I wish his family the best. May he rest in paradise.” 

A voter at times in FIFA’s annual awards, Wahl had been among 82 journalists honoured by FIFA and the international sports press association AIPS for attending eight or more World Cups.

“Only some days ago, Grant was recognised by FIFA and AIPS for his contribution to reporting on eight consecutive FIFA World Cups, and his career also included attendance at several FIFA Women’s World Cups, as well as a host of other international sporting events,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said. “His love for football was immense and his reporting will be missed by all who follow the global game.” 

Wahl worked for Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2021, known primarily for his coverage of soccer and college basketball. 

In a joint statement, SI’s co-editors in chief, Ryan Hunt and Stephen Cannella, said: “We’re shocked and devastated at the news of Grant’s passing. We were proud to call him a colleague and friend for two decades—no writer in the history of SI has been more passionate about the sport he loved and the stories he wanted to tell. Our hearts go out to Céline and his family, as well as everyone who loved his work. He will always be part of the SI family.”

He then launched his own website. Wahl also worked for Fox Sports from 2012-19.

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