Soccer writer Grant Wahl dies at World Cup match in Qatar

LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — Grant Wahl, an American journalist who helped boost soccer’s popularity in the United States and covered some of the sport’s biggest stories, died Saturday while covering a World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands. He was 48.

Wahl fell back to his seat in the reporter’s section of Lusail Stadium during overtime, and the reporters next to him called for help.

Emergency workers responded very quickly, treated him for 20 or 30 minutes on the scene and then took him on a stretcher, said Keir Radnedge, a veteran British sports reporter who was working nearby at the time.

The World Cup organizing committee said he was taken to Doha’s Hamad General Hospital, but did not give a cause of death. “We are in contact with the US Embassy and relevant local authorities to ensure that the process of repatriating the body is in accordance with the wishes of the family,” the statement said.

Wahl, who wrote for Sports Illustrated for a decade and then started his own website, was an important voice informing the American public about soccer during a period of increased interest after the United States hosted the 1994 World Cup. He also brought a critical eye to the organizational bodies of international sports.

Wahl tried to run for FIFA president against Sepp Blatter and Mohamed bin Hammami in 2011. He promised to open FIFA to greater transparency and said he contacted 150 countries without receiving support for the bid.

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He “really helped put soccer on the mainstream sports map in the United States,” Radnedge said.

“Grant had a strong moral compass about where sports should be and how sports should help set standards for people,” he said. “There was no doubt that Grant was on the side of the good guys in wanting to make the best of football.”

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

“My body finally broke down on me. Three weeks of little sleep, high stress and a lot of work can do that to you,” Wahl wrote. the upper chest takes on a new level of pressure and discomfort.”

Wahl wrote that she tested negative for COVID-19 and sought treatment for her symptoms.

“I went to the main media center medical center today and they said I probably have bronchitis. They gave me a course of antibiotics and heavy cough syrup and I’m a little better after a few hours. But still: No bueno,” he wrote.

Wahl tweeted on Wednesday that he had celebrated his birthday that day.

“We can always count on Grant to deliver insightful and entertaining stories about our game and its protagonists,” U.S. Soccer said in a statement. “Grant’s passion for soccer and commitment to raising its profile in our sporting landscape were instrumental in increasing interest and respect for our beautiful game.”

Wahl’s wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, tweeted that she was grateful for the support of her husband’s “football family” and friends.

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I’m in complete shock,” wrote Gounder, who is an assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine, an attending physician at Bellevue Hospital Center and a CBS News contributor.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a tweet that American officials were in contact with Qatari authorities to ensure that his family’s wishes were met as quickly as possible.

Wahl wore a rainbow T-shirt in support of LGBTQ rights in the USA’s World Cup opener against Wales on the 21st. Nov. and wrote that security stopped him from entering and told him to take his shirt off. Gay and lesbian sex is criminalized in Qatar, a conservative Muslim emirate.

Wahl wrote that he was detained for 25 minutes at the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, then released by the security commander. Wahl said FIFA apologized to him.

Wahl’s credits before he began exclusively covering football included a Sports Illustrated cover story on LeBron James in 2002 when James was a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High in Akron, Ohio.

“He was always nice to be around. He spent a lot of time in my hometown of Akron,” James said in Philadelphia after the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the 76ers in overtime. 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 heaven.”

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An occasional voter for FIFA’s annual awards, Wahl was among 82 journalists honored last week by FIFA and the international sports press association AIPS for covering eight or more World Cups.

“His love for football was immense and his reporting will be missed by all who follow the global game,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a statement.

Wahl graduated from Princeton in 1996 and worked at Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2021, known primarily for its football and college basketball coverage. He then launched his own website Fútbol with Grant Wahl and a podcast with Meadowlark Media.

Wahl also worked at Fox Sports from 2012-19 and was hired by CBS Sports in 2021 as an analyst and editorial consultant. Wahl wrote the 2009 book “The Beckham Experiment” after English soccer star David Beckham joined Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy, and the 2018 book “Masters of Modern Soccer.”

His death at the World Cup shocked journalists covering the games.

“You come to the World Cup as a journalist to work, share stress, pressure, but also pleasures and fascination – and share it with readers, listeners and viewers. That’s what Grant did, that’s what he enjoyed. Everyone recognized his enthusiasm, Radnedge said.

“So for him to no longer be with us at such a young age, it’s a huge shock.”


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