The sports world is paying tribute to prominent soccer journalist Grant Wahl following the news of his death in Qatar, where he was covering the men’s World Cup.
Wahl, 49, collapsed at Lusail Stadium in the waning minutes of Friday’s Argentina–Netherlands quarterfinal, according to other reporters who were covering the match. Paramedics attended to Wahl and performed CPR, NPR reported. He was then transported to Hamad General Hospital in Doha, the Qatari government said.
Wahl’s death was confirmed on social media by his wife, infectious disease doctor Céline Gounder; his brother Eric Wahl; and the US Soccer Federation.
“I am so thankful for the support of my husband @GrantWahl's soccer family & of so many friends who've reached out tonight,” Gounder tweeted. “I'm in complete shock.”
Shortly after the news of the writer's death broke, Eric Wahl said in an emotional Instagram video that he suspected foul play, noting that his brother had received death threats after being briefly detained ahead of the USA–Wales group match on Nov. 21 for wearing a shirt in support of the LGBTQ community. Same-sex relationships are illegal in Qatar.
“My brother was healthy,” Eric Wahl said in the video. “I do not believe my brother just died. I believe he was killed.”
He later walked back his statements.
Eric Wahl did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment Saturday. Representatives for the US State Department, US Soccer, and FIFA did not respond to questions about his suspicions.
Over the weekend, Eric Wahl clarified that he made those statements out of shock and "didn't know it would go everywhere."
"There's obviously no way I know anything certain," he tweeted. "Our family will await word from American doctors, and we have faith that the US government people with whom we've been in contact are doing everything they can do to help us get answers."
On Tuesday, Eric Wahl tweeted that he no longer suspected foul play.
Throughout the tournament, the host country has continued to face criticism for its anti-LGBTQ laws and record on human rights, including from Wahl, who as recently as Thursday called out Qatari organizers for their apathy over migrant worker deaths on his website and his Substack, Fútbol with Grant Wahl.
While a cause of death has not yet been released, Wahl had recently complained of a persistent cough and illness on his website and in his podcast.
“My body finally broke down on me,” Wahl wrote in a Dec. 5 post before going on to detail a grueling schedule of “little sleep” and “high stress.”
“What had been a cold over the last 10 days turned into something more severe on the night of the USA-Netherlands game,” he wrote, “and I could feel my upper chest take on a new level of pressure and discomfort.”
Wahl said he believed he had bronchitis and received treatment from the medical clinic where he was given antibiotics and some cough syrup.
The longtime sports writer covered soccer for more than two decades at Sports Illustrated before being fired from the magazine in 2020 amid pandemic-related pay cuts. He went on to start his own newsletter and became an analyst for CBS Sports. Wahl wrote two books about English star David Beckham’s move to Major League Soccer and how elite players strategize and harness their craft in each position on the pitch.
News of his death prompted an outpouring of tributes from athletes and other journalists who remembered Wahl as a passionate fan, a generous colleague, and a champion of American soccer and the women’s game, in particular.
“The soccer community lost a real one today. And for women’s soccer, one of the originals who helped drive our game forward,” US women’s national soccer team captain Becky Sauerbrunn tweeted Friday night. “Grant Wahl never shied away from asking the tough questions, the right questions, the ones that got to the heart of the matter. He will be greatly missed.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino expressed his condolences to Wahl’s family, describing the news as “shocking.”
"It is with disbelief and immense sadness that I have been made aware of the passing of renowned sports journalist Grant Wahl, whilst reporting on a quarter-final match during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar," the FIFA President said in a statement. “His love for football was immense and his reporting will be missed by all who follow the global game."
US Soccer hailed Wahl’s journalism for “elevating” the profile of soccer in the states.
“We could always count on Grant to deliver insightful and entertaining stories about our game, and its major protagonists: teams, players, coaches, and the many personalities that make soccer unlike any sport," the federation said in a statement. “Grant made soccer his life’s work, and we are devastated that he and his brilliant writing will no longer be with us.”
Basketball legend LeBron James, who was profiled by Wahl in Sports Illustrated when he was a teen phenom, also offered his praises to the journalist.
"You had a huge impact on me and my family and I’m so appreciative of you," James tweeted. "A great person and journalist. Rest In Paradise Grant Wahl. 🙏🏾🤎👑"
Plans are underway to repatriate Wahl’s body to the US, CNN reported. State department spokesperson Ned Price said the US government is in contact with Qatari officials “see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”