Prominent U.S. soccer journalist Grant Wahl died on Saturday while covering the men’s World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and the Netherlands in Qatar.
Wahl was 48.
Wahl went into acute distress in the press box during the game, his agent, Tim Scanlan, told the New York Times. World Cup organizers later said that he “fell ill” in the press area and received “immediate medical treatment on site” for 20 to 30 minutes. He was later taken out on a stretcher and transferred to Doha’s Hamad General Hospital.
On Monday, Wahl wrote on his website that he had visited a medical clinic while 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,” he 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.”
Wahl said that he had tested negative for COVID-19 and that medical personnel believed he had bronchitis. They issued Wahl antibiotics and “heavy-duty cough syrup.”
“I’m already feeling a bit better just a few hours later. But still: No bueno,” he continued.
On Friday, Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, said in a tweet that U.S. officials were in contact with Wahl’s family. Additionally, the U.S. is “engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”
In a statement, World Cup organizers said that they 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.”
This was Wahl’s eighth time covering a men’s World Cup. In November, Wahl made headlines when he wore a rainbow T-shirt to the United States’ World Cup opener against Wales in support of LGBTQ+ rights. Security had refused him entry and detained him for 25 minutes, telling him to remove his shirt. Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison in Qatar.
He later was released by a security commander and said FIFA issued him an apology for the incident. Wahl had also recently published a piece criticizing Qatar for the deaths of migrant workers.
Wahl began his career at Sports Illustrated in 1996. He worked there for more than 23 years. The co-editors in chief of the outlet issued a joint statement on Friday, saying 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 (Sports Illustrated) has been more passionate about the sport he loved and the stories he wanted to tell,” they said.
While there, he wrote the magazine’s first cover story on LeBron James, titled “The Chosen One,” when James was a junior in high school in 2002.
“He was always pretty cool to be around. He spent a lot of time in my hometown of Akron,” James said Friday after the 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.”
In a statement, U.S. Soccer said it is “heartbroken” to learn of his death.
“We could always count on Grant to deliver insightful and entertaining stories about our game, and its major protagonists,” the statement reads. “Grant’s passion for soccer and commitment to elevating its profile across our sporting landscape played a major role in helping to drive interest in and respect for our beautiful game.
“As important, Grant’s belief in the power of the game to advance human rights was, and will remain, an inspiration to all. Grant made soccer his life’s work, and we are devastated that he and his brilliant writing will no longer be with us.”
In addition to his work at Sports Illustrated, Wahl also did television work for Fox Sports and CBS. He left Sports Illustrated in 2021 to start his own website and newsletter, “Fútbol with Grant Wahl,” as well as a podcast with Meadowlark Media. He also regularly covered women’s soccer, most notably the U.S. women’s national team.
In the wake of the news, there was an outpouring of condolences and support for Wahl’s family on social media. Journalists, athletes and other sports figures spoke about the impact Wahl had on their lives and careers.
“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 was doing, that’s what he enjoyed doing. Everybody recognized that enthusiasm in him,” British sports journalist Keir Radnedge, who is at the World Cup in Qatar, told the Associated Press.
“So for him to not be with us anymore at such a young age, that’s an immense shock.”