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US soccer writer Grant Wahl dies after collapsing at World Cup game in Qatar

Journalist felt unwell, was told by medics he had bronchitis; had been briefly detained by security at United States’ opening game for wearing rainbow shirt to support LGBTQ rights

A screenshot taken from video provided by FIFA of journalist Grant Wahl at an awards ceremony in Doha, Qatar in Nov. 2022. Wahl, one of the most well-known soccer writers in the United States, died Dec. 10, 2022 while covering the World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands. (FIFA via AP)
A screenshot taken from video provided by FIFA of journalist Grant Wahl at an awards ceremony in Doha, Qatar in Nov. 2022. Wahl, one of the most well-known soccer writers in the United States, died Dec. 10, 2022 while covering the World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands. (FIFA via AP)

LUSAIL, Qatar — Grant Wahl, one of the most well-known soccer writers in the United States, died early Saturday while covering the World Cup game between Argentina and the Netherlands.

US media seated near him said 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. Emergency services workers responded very quickly, the reporters said, and the reporters later were told that Wahl had died.

Wahl tweeted on Wednesday that he had celebrated his birthday that day. American reporters who knew Wahl said he was 49.

“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.”

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

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 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,” he wrote.

Wahl wore a rainbow T-shirt in support of LGBTQ rights to the United States’ World Cup opener against Wales on Nov. 21 and wrote that security refused him entry and told him to remove the shirt. Gay and lesbian sex is criminalized in Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation.

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

US State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted late 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.”

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

Gounder tweeted that she was thankful for the support of her husband’s “soccer family” and friends who had reached out.

“I’m in complete shock,” she wrote.

Among Wahl’s work before he began covering soccer exclusively was a Sports Illustrated cover story about 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. “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.”

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

Wahl graduated from Princeton in 1996 and worked for Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2021, known primarily for his coverage of soccer and college basketball. He then launched his own website.

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