American football journalist Grant Wahl dies aged 49 in Qatar

LUSAIL, Qatar – Grant Wahl, one of the best-known soccer writers in the United States, died early Saturday while covering the World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands. He was 49.

American media sitting near him said Wahl slumped back in his seat in the press box at the Lusail Iconic Stadium during extra time, and reporters next to him called for help. Emergency workers responded very quickly, the reporters said, and reporters were later told that Wahl had died.

Wahl covered his eighth world championship. He wrote on his website on Monday 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,” Wahl wrote. “What had been a cold over the last 10 days turned into something more serious on the night of the USA vs Holland game and I could feel my upper chest taking on a new level of pressure and discomfort.

“I didn’t have Covid (I test regularly here) but I went into the doctor’s clinic at the main media center today and they said I probably had bronchitis. They gave me a course of antibiotics and some strong cough syrup, and I already have it a little better just a few hours later. But still: No bueno.”

On his podcast On Thursday, Wahl said he had a case of bronchitis and visited the medical clinic again.

“I pretty much canceled everything on this Thursday that I had and slept and I’m feeling a little bit better, you can probably tell by my voice that I’m not 100 percent going here,” he said. “Hopefully I’m not going to cough during this podcast. I cough a lot. All the coughing in here like this is by no means limited to me, as so many journalists have developed a crazy cough. It sounds like a death rattle sometimes.

“The only thing that’s actually surprising to me is that there’s not that much COVID here. I thought there might be a real problem with that. We’re not really seeing COVID cases. We’re just seeing a lot of general illness , cough, cold, and I can’t wait to be on the other side of what I have. But I’ll be ready to go. I’ll be attending on Friday.”

During the World Cup, Wahl drew international attention after saying he was briefly barred from the U.S. game against Wales on Nov. 21 for wearing a rainbow T-shirt in support of those who identify as LGBTQIA+. LGBTQIA+ rights are criminalized in Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation.

Wahl wrote that he was detained for 25 minutes at the Ahmed Bin Ali stadium in Al Rayyan, after which he was released by a security commander. Wahl said FIFA apologized to him.

Wahl graduated from Princeton in 1996 and worked for Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2021, known primarily for its coverage of football and college basketball. He then launched his own website. Wahl also worked for Fox Sports from 2012-19.

He is survived by his wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, attending physician at Bellevue Hospital Center and CBS News medical news contributor.

Go under tweeted Friday night that she was in “complete shock” and thanked everyone for their support for her husband.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a tweet that the US is “engaged with senior Qatari officials to ensure his family’s wishes are met as soon as possible.”

Sports Illustrated released a statement through editors-in-chief Ryan Hunt and Stephen Cannella saying they were “shocked and devastated by the news of Grant’s death.”

“We were proud to call him a colleague and friend for two decades — no writer in SI history has been more passionate about the sport he loved and the stories he wanted to tell,” the statement read. “Our hearts go out to Celine and his family, as well as everyone who loved his work. He will always be a part of the SI family.”

Among Wahl’s work at Sports Illustrated was the famous “The Chosen One” cover story on LeBron James in 2002, when James was a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High in Akron, Ohio.

“He was always pretty cool 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’d always think back to me as a teenager with Grant in our building down by St. V’s. It’s a tragic loss. It’s a shame to lose someone as great as he was. I wish his family all the best. May he rest in paradise.”

Also American football issued a statement Friday night said they were “devastated” to hear of Wahl’s death.

Wahl wrote that he had been among 82 journalists honored by FIFA and the International Sports Press Association AIPS for covering eight or more World Cups.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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