Soccer journalist Grant Wahl dies at World Cup

Wahl’s death came weeks after he was arrested by Qatari security forces for wearing a rainbow shirt at the USA-Wales game in November.

DOHA, Qatar – American football journalist Grant Wahl has died in Qatar after collapsing while covering the World Cup.

US Soccer confirmed the message Friday evening. In a statement released on Twitter, the organization said it was “heartbroken” to learn of Wahl’s death.

“Football and journalism fans of the highest quality knew we could always count on Grant to provide insightful and entertaining stories about our game,” the statement said, in part. “Grant’s passion for football and commitment to raising his profile in our sporting landscape played an important role in raising interest and respect for our beautiful game.”

U.S. media sitting near him said Wahl fell back to his seat in the media stand at Lusail Iconic Stadium during extra time, and reporters next to him called for help. The emergency services staff responded very quickly, reporters said, and reporters were later told that Wahl had died.

Wahl tweeted on Wednesday that he celebrated his birthday that day. American reporters who knew Wahl said he was 49 years old.

Wahl reported on his eighth world championship. He wrote on his website on Monday that he attended a medical clinic in Qatar and tested negative for COVID-19.

“My body finally collapsed on me. Three weeks of little sleep, lots of stress and lots of work can do that to you,” Wahl wrote. “What had been a cold for the past 10 days turned into something heavier on the night of the USA-Netherlands game and I could feel my upper chest taking on a new level of pressure and discomfort.”

“I went to the medical clinic in the main media center today and they said I probably had bronchitis. They put me on antibiotics and a strong cough syrup and a few hours later I’m feeling a little better. But still: No bueno,” he wrote.

His death came after he drew international attention when he said he was arrested by Qatari security forces. On November 21, security forces prevented Wahl from entering the stadium for the USA-Wales game because he was wearing a rainbow shirt.

Another journalist was also arrested and the ordeal lasted about 30 minutes before both were released and Wahl was allowed to wear the shirt, Wahl wrote in a Substack post later in the day. Wahl said FIFA later apologized to him about the incident.

In a video posted to Instagram, Wahl’s brother Eric said he believed Grant didn’t die of natural causes. Eric Wahl said his brother told him he received death threats after the incident. Eric said he is gay and is the reason his brother wears the shirt.

“My brother was healthy. He told me he had received death threats. I don’t think my brother just died. I think he was killed.”

Qatar’s government said LGBTQ fans are welcome at the World Cup despite the conservative Muslim country’s laws against same-sex relationships, but has cracked down on pro-LGBTQ demonstrations by players and others.

Wahl’s wife, Celine Gounder, said she was “completely shocked.”

“I am so grateful for the support of my husband Grant Wahl’s football family and so many friends who reached out tonight. I’m in complete shock,” Gounder said on Twitter.

Wahl graduated from Princeton in 1996 and worked for Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2021, best known for its football and college basketball coverage.

As one of the most prominent football journalists in the United States, there was immense sadness and support online after Wahl’s death was confirmed.

“In addition to being the country’s leading football journalist, he was a valued friend and collaborator who has shaped our editorial board through his generosity and kindness as much as through his work,” Wahl’s colleagues at Sports Illustrated said in a statement.

Others, including journalist Jason Rezaian, also questioned whether Wahl’s death could be linked to his reporting of human rights abuses in Qatar.

Wahl “told stories that others wouldn’t tell,” Rezaian wrote, retweeting Wahl’s recent article about migrant deaths at the World Cup. “The US government must investigate the cause of death.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted late Friday: “We were deeply saddened to learn of Grant Wahl’s death and offer our condolences to his family, with whom we have been in close communication. We are working with senior Qatari officials to ensure his family’s wishes are met as soon as possible.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Soccer journalist Grant Wahl dies at World Cup

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