Two dozen flowers and a famous photograph by football journalist Grant Wahl were placed in Section 506, Desk 305, Seat A – Wahl’s assigned seat – high above the touchline at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor ahead of Saturday’s France-England game.
Wahl, 49, collapsed during a game between Argentina and the Netherlands and died early Saturday, prompting investigations into the cause of death and tributes around the world.
A FIFA official in a blue suit and tie stood near Wahl’s assigned spot on Saturday as if to guard the shrine.
“It was the least we could do,” he said.
FIFA released a statement saying Wahl’s wife, infectious disease specialist Dr. Condolences to Celine Gounder and others who knew him.
“Tonight we pay tribute to Grant Wahl in his assigned seat at Al Bayt Stadium. He should have been here,” FIFA said in a statement. “Our thoughts remain with his wife Celine, family and friends at this most difficult time.”
An endless parade of photographers, journalists, FIFA officials and tournament volunteers made the long climb to the top of the media stand to pay their respects and take their own photos.
Another tribute appeared before the game on the stadium’s two giant scoreboards with messages of condolence in English and Arabic. Journalists from Poland, Canada and other countries stopped by to express their sympathy, offer hugs to Wahl’s American colleagues or simply ask questions about him.
“How was he?” some would ask. “I knew him well,” others would say.
Best known for decades of his award-winning work at Sports Illustrated, Wahl worked as an independent journalist covering his eighth World Cup. He was a passionate advocate for the beautiful game and underrepresented communities.
He also contributed to Fox and the network’s football coverage Dear choice during his game coverage Saturday.
Los Angeles Times staffers were among journalists who watched as paramedics treated Wahl for about 30 minutes after his collapse in the media stand late Friday, before taking him out of the stadium on a stretcher. The World Cup organizing committee told the Associated Press he was taken by ambulance to Hamad General Hospital in Doha and pronounced dead. No reason was given. “We are in contact with the US Embassy and relevant local authorities to ensure the process of repatriating the body is in accordance with the family’s wishes,” the AP’s World Cup organizing committee said in a statement.
Wahl wrote on his website and spoke on his podcast about how he’s been feeling sick over the past week.
“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.”
He was briefly arrested for wearing a rainbow pro-LGBTQ t-shirt at a game earlier in the tournament and has given extensive coverage of human rights issues in Qatar, including the deaths of migrant workers building World Cup stadiums. The work reinforced questions about the cause of death.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price released a statement on Twitter which read, among other things: “We are working with senior Qatari officials to ensure that his family’s wishes are met as soon as possible.”
The tributes during the game between England and France contributed to an outburst of love for Wahl’s influence.
In a statement, US Soccer called his work “enlightening and entertaining” and praised his dedication to the sport.
Here are some highlights of what athletes, teams and sportswriters had to say about Wahl:
https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-12-10/fifa-tributes-grant-wahl-death-world-cup World Cup: FIFA joins tributes to Grant Wahl after his death