Grant Wahl, one of the most well-known football writers in the United States, died early Saturday while covering the World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands in Qatar. He was 48.
US media seated near him said Wahl fell back in his seat in the press box at Lusail Iconic Stadium during extra time and reporters adjacent to him called for assistance. Emergency services workers responded very quickly, the reporters said, and they were 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 organizing committee said in a statement, which did not list 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 was covering his eighth World Cup. He wrote Monday on his website that he had visited a medical clinic 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.
“I didn’t have Covid (I test regularly here), but 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.”
On his podcast Thursday, Wahl said he had a case of bronchitis and visited the medical clinic again.
“I basically canceled everything on this Thursday that I had, and napped and I’m doing slightly better that you can probably tell in my voice that I’m not at it at 100 percent here,” he said. “Hopefully I will not cough during this podcast. I’m coughing a lot. Everyone’s coughing here in like this is by no means limited to me like so many journalists have got a crazy cough. It sounds like a death rattle sometimes.
“The only thing that’s surprising to me actually is there isn’t that much COVID here. I thought there might be a real issue with that. We’re not really seeing COVID cases. We’re just seeing a lot of general sickness, coughing, colds, and I can’t wait to be on the other side of what I have. But I am going to be ready to go. I’m attending on Friday.”
During the World Cup, Wahl drew international attention after saying he was briefly stopped from attending the US match against Wales on Nov. 21 for wearing a rainbow-colored T-shirt in support of those who identify as LGBTQIA+, as their rights are criminalized in Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation.
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 apologized to him.
A 1996 graduate of Princeton, Wahl worked for Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2021, known primarily for his coverage of soccer and college basketball. He then launched his own website. Wahl also worked for Fox Sports from 2012 to 2019.
He is survived by his wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, attending physician at Bellevue Hospital Center and CBS News medical news contributor.
Gounder tweeted Friday night that she was in “complete shock” and thanked everyone for their support of her husband.
In a tweet, U.S. men’s national team captain Tyler Adams expressed his “deepest sympathy” to Gounder and “all those who mourn the loss of Grant Wahl.” U.S. Soccer also released a statement Friday night, saying they were “heartbroken” to learn of Wahl’s death.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price tweeted that the U.S. is “engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”
Sports Illustrated released a statement through co-editors in chief Ryan Hunt and Stephen Cannella that said they were “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,” the statement read. “Our hearts go out to Celine and his family, as well as everyone who loved his work. He will always be part of the SI family.”
Among Wahl’s work at Sports Illustrated was the famous “The Chosen One” 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 honored 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.”