US soccer journalist Grant Wahl has died after suffering an apparent heart attack at Lusail Stadium, where he was covering the World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and the Netherlands on Friday night.
Wahl, who was a correspondent for CBS Sports and wrote a popular Substack column, was 49 years old.
“The entire US Soccer family is heartbroken to learn that we have lost Grant Wahl,” the US Soccer Federation said in a statement. “Here in the United States, Grant’s passion for soccer and commitment to elevating its profile across our sporting landscape palyed 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.”
Wahl was seated in the press box in the upper-most tier of the stadium when he collapsed in extra time, prompting the journalists around him to remove chairs and call for medical assistance.
A team of medics arrived and began administering CPR for the next 20 minutes. After the match concluded, Wahl was taken away from the scene.
Wahl’s wife, Dr Celine Gounder, an infectious disease epidemiologist who served on Joe Biden’s coronavirus taskforce confirmed her husband’s death in a statement 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. I’m in complete shock,” she wrote.
US state department spokesperson Ned Price said in a tweet that the United States is “engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible”.
Wahl made headlines earlier in the tournament when he was detained by security staff at Qatar’s Ahmad bin Ali Stadium for wearing a rainbow shirt to the United States’ World Cup opener against Wales. He said he wore the shirt as a show of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. Homosexuality is illegal 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.”
Wahl was perhaps the best-known soccer journalist in the United States. He covered his first World Cup in 1994 and joined Sports Illustrated in 1996. He stayed at the magazine for more than two decades, charting the rise of soccer in the US and wrote a well-received book on David Beckham’s arrival in MLS. He also wrote the magazine’s first cover story on LeBron James, while the basketball player was a rising star in high school. Qatar was Wahl’s eighth World Cup.
“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,” Sports Illustrated said in a statement on Friday night. “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.”
Other writers and journalists paid tribute to Wahl as news of his death emerged.
“Grant Wahl was my friend, one of the nicest, most truly decent people I have ever had the opportunity to work with. I am flattened,” tweeted Will Leitch, the founding editor of Deadspin.
Brendan Hunt, the writer and co-star of Ted Lasso, also paid tribute to Wahl on Twitter.
“Sitting here floored by the horrible news that Grant Wahl died today in Qatar,” wrote Hunt. “I have read his work for literally decades; just two months ago I had the pleasure of meeting him, and he was an absolute mensch. This is a tragic and devastating loss.”
Wahl was well known as a champion of women’s soccer. Former USWNT star Carli Lloyd described his death as “truly heartbreaking” on Twitter. She added: “Completely shocked. My heart goes out to his wife, family, friends and the soccer community.”