Soccer writer Grant Wahl dies at World Cup match in Qatar

LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — Grant Wahl, an American journalist who helped grow the popularity of soccer in the U.S. He was 48.

Wahl slumped back in his seat in a section of Lusail Stadium reserved for journalists during extra time of the game, and reporters next to him called for help.

Emergency services workers responded very quickly, treated him for 20 or 30 minutes on the spot and then took him out on a stretcher, said Keir Rodney, a veteran British sports journalist 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,” it said in a statement.

Wahl, who wrote for Sports Illustrated for a decade and then started his own website, was a major voice informing an American public of soccer during times of increased interest after the U.S. Open. it. 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 Hammam in 2011. He promised to open FIFA to greater transparency and said he contacted 150 countries without winning support for a nomination.

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

“Grant has a strong moral compass, on where sports should be and how sports … should help set standards for people,” he said. “There was never any doubt that Grant was on the side of the good guys in soccer to make the best of themselves.”

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Wahl was covering his eighth World Cup. He wrote on Monday on his website that he visited a medical clinic 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. “What had been a cold for the past 10 days became something more severe on the night of the USA-Netherlands game, and I could feel my upper chest taking on a new level of pressure and discomfort.”

Wahl wrote that he tested negative for COVID-19 and sought treatment for his symptoms.

“I went to the medical clinic in the main media center today, and they said I probably had bronchitis. They gave me a course of antibiotics and some heavy-duty cough syrup, and I was much better a few hours later. But Still: no bueno,” he wrote.

Wahl tweeted on Wednesday that he was celebrating his birthday that day.

The US “Grant’s passion for soccer and commitment to raising its profile in our sporting landscape has played a major role in helping to generate interest in and respect for our beautiful game.”

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

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

State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a tweet that American officials were in contact with Qatari authorities “to see that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as quickly as possible.”

Wahl wore a rainbow t-shirt in support of LGBTQ rights to the United States’ World Cup opener against Wales on Nov. 21 and wrote that security denied him entry and told him to remove the shirt. Gay and lesbian sex is criminalized in Qatar, a conservative Muslim emirate.

Wahl wrote that he was detained for 25 minutes at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, and was let go by a security commander. Wahl said FIFA apologized to him.

Among Wahl’s work before he began covering football exclusively was a Sports Illustrated cover story about LeBron James in 2002, when James was a junior at St. Louis. 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 in overtime to the 76ers. “Every time his name would come up, I would always think back to me as a teenager with Grant in our building down in St. W. 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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A voter in FIFA’s annual awards, Wahl was among 82 journalists honored last week by FIFA and the international sports press association AIPS for attending 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 for Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2021, known primarily for its coverage of soccer and college basketball. He then launched his own website, Fútbol with Grant Wahl, and a podcast with Meadowlark Media.

Wahl also worked for 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 the English soccer star David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy of Major League Soccer, and the 2018 book “Masters of Modern Soccer.”

His death at the World Cup saddened fellow journalists covering the games.

“You come to a World Cup as a journalist to work, to share the stresses, the pressures, but also the enjoyments and the fascination of it – and to share that with your readers, your listeners, your viewers. That’s what Grant did, He enjoyed that. Everyone recognized the enthusiasm in him,” Radnedge said.

“So for him not to be with us at such a young age, it’s a huge blow.”


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