Grant Wahl: US football journalist dies in Qatar while covering World Cup match

Grant Wahl, one of the most respected American sports journalists and perhaps the country’s best-known writer on football, died early on Saturday while covering the World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands in Qatar.

Wahl is said to have collapsed while in the media booth at the Lusail Iconic Stadium during extra time, and could not be revived.

The journalist was covering his eighth World Cup and made headlines earlier in the tournament when he said he was refused entry to a game for wearing a rainbow T-shirt.

Wahl’s agent Tim Scanlan told the New York Times that the sportswriter had gone into acute distress in the final minutes of the quarter-final match, which he was covering from the press section in the upper stands of the stadium.

The journalist had written about his health struggles at the tournament earlier this week. On Monday he said that he had visited a hospital after his 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 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.”

His wife Celine Gounder said she was in “complete shock”. “I am so thankful for the support of my husband Grant Wahl’s soccer family & of so many friends who’ve reached out tonight,” she wrote on Twitter.

US Soccer said it was “heartbroken to learn” of Wahl’s death.

“Fans of soccer and journalism of the highest quality knew he 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 sports,” it said in a statement.

“His writing and the stories he told will live on.”

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Wahl said he was briefly detained in November when he tried to enter a stadium in Qatar wearing a rainbow shirt in support of the LGBT+ community. He alleged the security at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan denied him entry to the US opener against Wales and asked him to change his shirt.

Wahl was among 82 journalists honoured by Fifa and the international sports press association AIPS for attending eight or more World Cups.

A 1996 graduate of Princeton, Wahl worked for Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2021, known primarily for his coverage of football and college basketball.

US state department spokesperson Ned Price said the administration was in close communication with Wahl’s family.

“We are engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible,” he said.

Additional reporting by agencies