Grant Wahl, a widely influential soccer journalist, died in Qatar during the World Cup, according to U.S. Soccer officials. The news was first reported by NPR.
“The entire U.S. soccer family is heartbroken to learn that we have lost Grant Wahl,” said an unsigned statement from the United States Soccer Federation. “His writing and the stories he told will live on.”
Wahl, 48, was a soccer analyst for CBS Sports and a longtime reporter for Sports Illustrated. During the World Cup in Qatar, he has been a vocal proponent for gay rights, posting a photo outside the United States’ game against Wales in a rainbow flag T-shirt, an action for which he was briefly detained. He said his phone was “ripped” from his hands by a guard and he was told to remove his shirt. Same-sex relationships are illegal in Qatar.
As a writer for Substack, Wahl frequently criticized the rulers of Qatar on a variety of issues. His last post, published Thursday, took officials to task for the deaths of migrant workers during the construction of the World Cup stadiums.
“Qatari World Cup organizers don’t even hide their apathy over migrant worker deaths, including the most recent one,” he wrote.
Wahl’s agent told the New York Times that Wahl experienced distress in the final minutes of the game between Netherlands and Argentina, after feeling unwell in recent days.
On a podcast Thursday, Wahl said he had an illness resembling bronchitis and visited a medical clinic twice, but tested negative for COVID.
John Berman, a fellow journalist and CNN anchor, told the network that Wahl told him the same thing. “He hadn’t been feeling well, but nothing that would indicate what ultimately happened,” Berman said.
Josh Glancy, a special correspondent for The Sunday Times, described an alarming scene in the press box at Lusail Stadium amid Wahl’s medical emergency. Medics arrived quickly and soon began to perform CPR, taking turns pumping his chest with a journalist who had first-aid training.
“Why wasn’t there a defibrillator?” Glancy wrote, recalling the question that he and others asked inside the “billion dollar state-of-the-art stadium.”
“Many minutes passed and we kept expecting it to come. But it never did,” he added.
The State Department is “engaging” with Qatari officials over Wahl’s death, Politico reported. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed Saturday morning that the department was striving “to ensure his family gets the support they need.”
Wahl’s wife, Céline Gounder, an epidemiologist and member of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board during his transition, paid tribute to her husband on Twitter.
“I am so thankful for the support of my husband @GrantWahl ’s soccer family & of so many friends who’ve reached out tonight,” she wrote. “I’m in complete shock.”
Tributes also poured in from around the worlds of sports journalism and soccer.