Grant Wahl, a longtime soccer sportswriter, died Friday in Qatar while covering the World Cup.
NPR national supervising editor Russell Lewis tweeted that Wahl was covering the Argentina-Netherlands quarterfinal match when he died. Wahl was 49.
Wahl was in an area for media at the Lusail Stadium when he “fell ill” and was tended to on-site by paramedics and taken to a hospital, a spokesperson for Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said.
The cause of death was not immediately available.
U.S. Soccer said in its statement that the team was “heartbroken” over Wahl’s death.
“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,” the organization said.
In a post Dec. 5 on his personal website, Wahl said he felt sick and that medical personnel on-site at the World Cup told him he probably had bronchitis. He said he was given antibiotics.
“My body finally broke down on me,” he wrote. “Three weeks of little sleep, high stress and lots of work can do that to you. 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.”
His wife, Dr. Céline Gounder, tweeted late Friday that the news came as a “complete shock.”
“I am so thankful for the support of my husband @GrantWahl‘s soccer family & of so many friends who’ve reached out tonight,” she said.
The White House is in touch with Gounder, a senior administration official told NBC News. She had reached out to chief of staff Ron Klain as a friend looking for assistance in contacting the U.S. Embassy in Doha, which the National Security Council facilitated, the official said.
The U.S. State Department expressed its condolences to Wahl’s family, whom they said they’ve been in close communication with. “We are engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a tweet. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted Saturday, “Grant Wahl was an inspiration to many. Our thoughts are with his wife Dr. Céline Gounder and all those who loved him.”
The Qatar Supreme Committee spokesperson said they are communicating with the U.S. Embassy “to ensure the process of repatriating the body is in accordance with the family’s wishes.”
In his writing, Wahl had reflected on the extraordinary nature of a World Cup in Qatar, and noted an incident on Nov. 21, when he said he was stopped by security and held because he refused to remove a T-shirt with a rainbow logo that signified solidarity with LGBTQ+ rights. Same-sex relations are illegal in the country.
It happened as he arrived at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan to cover the U.S.-Wales game, Wahl later wrote.
Wahl said he was held more than 30 minutes, refusing to remove the shirt, until a security commander came to release him and shake his hand.
He relayed the incident in an interview on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports.
“It left me wondering about what it’s like for Qataris who are here outside of the World Cups who are gay because this was something that I had to deal with at an event that was being covered globally,” Wahl told Mitchell.
Wahl had also written about the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar, where hundreds have reportedly died in the years leading up to the World Cup.
Wahl is from Mission, Kansas, and attended Princeton University as an undergraduate.
According to a bio from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Wahl covered at least 10 World Cups and five Olympics.
He was known for his work for Sports Illustrated and as a commentator on NPR. He wrote a well-received book about David Beckham’s foray into U.S. soccer, titled “The Beckham Experiment.”
It was the first New York Times bestseller with soccer as the topic.
Sports Illustrated’s top editors said late Friday that he started there in 1996 and left to pursue independent projects in 2020.
“We’re shocked and devastated at the news of Grant’s passing,” SI’s co-editors in chief, Ryan Hunt and Stephen Cannella, said. “We were proud to call him a colleague and friend for two decades. No writer in the history of SI has been more passionate about the sport he loved and the stories he wanted to tell.”
Numerous soccer organizations paid tribute to Wahl. Gianni Infantino, the head of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, said in a statement that Wahl’s love of soccer was “immense and his reporting will be missed by all who follow the global game.”
The National Soccer Hall of Fame said few supported the idea of honoring the greatest players as he did; Major League Soccer said Wahl’s passion for the game was immeasurable; and Angel City Football Club in Los Angeles said soccer “is better because of him.”
“His commitment to sharing the stories of our beautiful game was unmatched, but more importantly, his integrity, thoughtfulness and kindness were central to the way he lived,” National Women’s Soccer League said in a statement.
Some of Wahl’s readers credited him with helping grow the sport’s fan base in the United States.
U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe called the news “devastating” in a tweet and Hall of Famer Abby Wambach tweeted that Wahl and soccer were “inextricably linked.”
“I have looked to Grant and his work for decades,” Wambach said. “The soccer story here in the US has Grant’s name all over it.”
U.S. men’s national soccer team captain Tyler Adams offered his “deepest sympathy” to Wahl’s wife and loved ones.
“As players we have a tremendous amount of respect for the work of journalists, & Grant’s was a giant voice in soccer that has tragically fallen silent,” he tweeted.
LeBron James said he was “very fond” of Wahl, who wrote a Sports Illustrated cover story about him when he was in high school.
“He was always pretty cool to be around. He spent a lot of time in my hometown of Akron covering me over the course of time before that … cover story came out. I’ve always kind of watched from a distance,” the NBA legend said at a Friday evening news conference. “It’s a tragic loss. It’s unfortunate to lose someone as great as he was.”
Former World No. 1 tennis star Billie Jean King also paid tribute.
“Heartbreaking to hear of the death of Grant Wahl. A talented journalist, Grant was an advocate for the LGBTQ community & a prominent voice for women’s soccer. He used his platform to elevate those whose stories needed telling,” she tweeted. “Prayers for his family.”
Film and TV producer Franklin Leonard said Wahl’s importance to the game stateside is hard to measure.
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