Grant Wahl, soccer journalist, dies at 49 in Qatar while covering World Cup

Soccer analyst Grant Wahl died in Qatar while covering a World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands on Friday, just days after his 49th birthday.

Wahl's wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, confirmed his death Friday night on Twitter, writing she was in "complete shock." Gounder also expressed gratitude for support from the "soccer family & of so many friends who've reached out tonight."

Wahl, a sports journalist for CBS Sports and author of the GrantWahl Substack column, had covered eight men's World Cup tournaments.

U.S. 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.

Grant Wahl speaks on a panel discussion at the 2014 Kicking + Screening Soccer Film Festival New York, presented by Budweiser, on April 8, 2014 in New York City.
Grant Wahl speaks on a panel discussion at the 2014 Kicking + Screening Soccer Film Festival New York, presented by Budweiser, on April 8, 2014 in New York City.

“He received immediate emergency medical treatment on site, which continued as he was transferred by ambulance to Hamad General Hospital,” the World Cup organizing 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.”

Although an official cause of death has not been shared, Wahl wrote that he had been suffering from a "severe" illness that required him to visit a medical clinic 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 Monday on his World Cup Daily newsletter. “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 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.”

Ned Price, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said the government is "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 Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University, who served on the Biden-Harris Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. They met at Princeton University and married in 2001 in Seattle.

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MLS commissioner Don Garber said Wahl "will be deeply missed."

"We are shocked, saddened and heartbroken over the tragic passing of Grant Wahl. He was a kind and caring person whose passion for soccer and dedication to journalism were immeasurable," Garber tweeted. "Grant was an important member of the soccer community for more than two decades."

U.S. Soccer also issued a statement Friday.

"The entire US soccer family is heartbroken to learn that we have lost Grant," the statement read. "Fans of soccer and journalism of the highest quality knew we could always count on Grant to deliver insightful and entertaining stories about our game and its major protagonist: teams, players, coaches and the many personalities that make soccer unlike any sport. Here in the United States Grant's passion for soccer and commitment to elevating its profile across our sporting landscape played a major role in helping to drive interest in and respect for our beautiful game."

The statement concluded: "We thank Grant for his tremendous dedication to and impact on our game in the United States. His writing and the stories he told will live on."

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Earlier Friday, Wahl shared several Instagram Stories from Lusail Stadium, where Argentina defeated the Netherlands in a penalty shootout to advance to the semifinals.

Wahl was among the journalists honored in Qatar by the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) and FIFA for their longtime coverage of men’s World Cups.

Wahl rang in his 48th birthday Tuesday.

"Celebrated my birthday tonight with a great group of media friends at the World Cup. No games today, but very thankful for everyone," he tweeted.

Wahl said he was detained in Qatar for "nearly half an hour" ahead of the USMNT-Wales match Nov. 21 for wearing a rainbow shirt in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Qatar’s laws against, and treatment of, LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone is welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

"Security guard refusing to let me into the stadium for USA-Wales," Wahl tweeted. "'You have to change your shirt. It’s not allowed.'"

Wahl said FIFA apologized to him.

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Born in Mission, Kansas, Wahl graduated from Princeton University with a political science degree in 1996. ("They didn't have a journalism degree" at the time, he recalled in 2020.) Wahl covered the Princeton Tigers men's soccer team during his first year at the university. The team was coached by Bob Bradley, who went on to coach in Major League Soccer and for the United States men's national team.

Wahl spent a summer studying abroad in Argentina in 1994 with the Boca Juniors sports club, an opportunity presented to him by Bradley.

"By that time, I’d started to get really into the sport and the idea of covering it," Wahl recalled in a 2015 interview. "I learned so much from Bob Bradley, he was amazing."

Wahl landed a job straight out of college at Sports Illustrated, which he described as a dream. He worked there for 24 years.

"I got a subscription to Sports Illustrated as a Christmas present from my parents when I was 10 and that became my bible. I read that magazine cover to cover every week, it was in my mailbox on a Thursday," Wahl recalled in a 2015 interview. "I remember telling my friends in high school that I wanted to write for Sports Illustrated someday."

One of Wahl's cover stories at SI ended up becoming one of the most famous in the magazine's illustrious history – LeBron James' first cover in 2002, in which he was declared the "Chosen One."

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"Very fond of Grant, and having that cover shoot, me being a teenager and him covering that, was a pretty cool thing," James, 37, said after the Lakers' game Friday night. "I've always kind of watched from a distance. It's a tragic loss. It's unfortunate to lose someone as great as he was." 

Wahl went on to write the New York Times best-selling book "The Beckham Experiment" in 2009, highlighting the impact of David Beckham's move to the MLS's LA Galaxy.

In 2011, Wahl announced a bid to run for FIFA President against Sepp Blatter, who was running unopposed. But Wahl failed to secure an official nomination from a national soccer federation before the final deadline.

"I kept trying to secure that nomination right up until the last day before the deadline. I owed that to the thousands of soccer fans around the world who had put their trust in me as the People's Candidate," Wahl wrote in a 2011 Sports Illustrated article.

This story has been updated to reflect Grant Wahl’s correct age. He 

Contributing: Lorenzo Reyes, USA TODAY; The Associated Press 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Grant Wahl, soccer journalist, dies in Qatar covering World Cup