US football writer Grant Wahl dies at World Cup match in Qatar

Mr Wahl tweeted on Wednesday that he had celebrated his birthday that day.

Soccer Obit Wahl
Soccer Obit Wahl

Grant Wahl, one of the most well-known football writers in the United States, died early on Saturday while covering the World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands.

US media seated near him said Mr Wahl fell back in his seat in a section of Lusail Iconic Stadium reserved for journalists during extra time of the game, and reporters adjacent to him called for assistance.

“He received immediate emergency medical treatment on site, which continued as he was transferred by ambulance to Hamad General Hospital,” the World Cup organising committee said in a statement, which did not list a cause of death.

“We 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.”

Mr Wahl tweeted on Wednesday that he had celebrated his birthday that day. He was 48.

“We could always count on Grant to deliver insightful and entertaining stories about our game, and its major protagonists,” the US Soccer Federation said in a statement.

“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.”

Mr Wahl was honoured with a tribute from FIFA on the desk where he was due to work at the World Cup quarter-final match between France and England.

A posy of white lilies and a framed photograph of Wahl taken in Qatar was left at the media seat that had been assigned to the 48-year-old journalist.

Fifa said in a statement: “Tonight we pay tribute to Grant Wahl at his assigned seat in Al Bayt Stadium. He should have been here.

“Our thoughts remain with his wife Celine, his family, and his friends at this most difficult time.”

Mr Wahl was covering his eighth World Cup. He wrote on Monday 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,” Mr 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.”

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

“I went into the medical clinic at the main media centre 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,” he wrote.

Mr Wahl wore a rainbow T-shirt in support of LGBTQ rights to the United States’ World Cup opener against Wales on November 21 and wrote that security refused him entry and told him to remove the shirt.

Gay and lesbian sex is criminalised in Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation.

Pyrotechnics go off around a large scale replica of the FIFA World Cup trophy on the pitch ahead of the FIFA World Cup Quarter-Final match at the Lusail Stadium
Pyrotechnics go off around a large scale replica of the Fifa World Cup trophy on the pitch at the Lusail Stadium (Peter Byrne/PA)

Mr Wahl wrote he was detained for 25 minutes at Ahmed Bin Ali stadium in Al Rayyan, then was let go by a security commander. Mr Wahl said Fifa apologised to him.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted late on Friday: “We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Grant Wahl and send our condolences to his family, with whom we have been in close communication. We are engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”

Mr Wahl is survived by his wife, Dr Celine Gounder, an associate professor at New York University School of Medicine, attending physician at Bellevue Hospital Centre and CBS News contributor.

She wrote 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.”

A voter at times in Fifa’s annual awards, Mr Wahl wrote this week that he had been among 82 journalists honoured by Fifa and the international sports press association AIPS for attending eight or more World Cups.

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