Grant Wahl, a sports journalist and LGBTQ+ ally who was covering the World Cup in Qatar, collapsed last Friday in the press box near the end of a game and died shortly after. He was 48.
On November 21, Wahl wrote about being detained and interrogated by Qatari authorities as he arrived at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium for the U.S.-Wales game wearing a t-shirt depicting a soccer ball encircled by a rainbow.
Wahl fell ill at Lusail Iconic Stadium on Friday during extra time at the quarter-final match between Argentina and the Netherlands.
“Suddenly, colleagues up to my left started shouting for medical assistance,” Keir Radnedge, a columnist at World Soccer Magazine, told CNN Saturday. “Obviously, someone had collapsed. Because the chairs are freestanding, people were able to move the chairs, so it’s possible to create a little bit of space around him.”
Paramedics arrived “pretty quickly and were able to, as best they could, give treatment,” Radnedge said.
Wahl’s agent, Tim Scanlan, told The New York Times on Friday he understood Wahl died at a hospital in Qatar or on the way to one.
“He wasn’t sleeping well, and I asked him if he tried melatonin or anything like,” Scanlan said. “He said, ‘I just need to like relax for a bit.’”
Wahl shared on his podcast and newsletter a series of health issues he suffered over the last few weeks.
“So many journalists have got a crazy cough,” Wahl said on his podcast. “It sounds like a death rattle sometimes.” He told listeners he tested negative for COVID and had received treatment. Doctors at a media center clinic told Wahl, “I probably have bronchitis,” he wrote in his newsletter.
“My body finally broke down on me. Three weeks of little sleep, high stress, and lots of work can do that to you… I could feel my upper chest take on a new level of pressure and discomfort,” Wahl wrote.
While he was “feeling a bit better just a few hours later,” Wahl added, “still: No bueno.”
Wahl celebrated his 48th birthday two days before his death, tweeting Wednesday, “Celebrated my birthday tonight with a great group of media friends at the World Cup. No games today, but very thankful for everyone ❤️.”
Wahl’s wife, Dr. Céline Gounder, expressed “complete shock” at her husband’s death, while thanking the soccer community for their support.
“I am so thankful for the support of my husband @GrantWahl’s soccer family & of so many friends who’ve reached out tonight,” she posted to Twitter on Friday.
“I’m in 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.
I'm in complete shock. https://t.co/OB3IzOxGlE
— Céline Gounder, MD, ScM, FIDSA 🇺🇦 (@celinegounder) December 10, 2022
Lebron James, whom Wahl profiled for a Sports Illustrated cover story while the basketball legend was still in high school, tweeted: “You had a huge impact on me and my family and I’m so appreciative of you. A great person and journalist. Rest In Paradise Grant Wahl.”
U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team captain Tyler Adams posted: “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.”
In a tearful Instagram video post, the journalist’s brother, Eric Wahl, who is gay, alleged Qatari government culpability in Grant Wahl’s death.
“My name is Eric Wahl. I live in Seattle, Washington. I am Grant Wahl’s brother. I’m gay. I’m the reason he wore the rainbow shirt to the World Cup. My brother was healthy. He told me he received death threats. I do not believe my brother just died. I believe he was killed. And I just beg for any help.”
Eric Wahl said Wahl’s wife was in touch with White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, a friend who brought Gounder on to the White House transition team for COVID.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Friday the U.S. government is in contact with Qatari officials regarding Wahl’s death.
“We are engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible,” Price posted to Twitter.
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.
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) December 10, 2022
Grant Wahl’s interrogation by Qatari authorities at the start of the World Cup was widely covered. He arrived at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium for the U.S.-Wales game on November 21 wearing a t-shirt that featured a rainbow.
Wahl wrote: “’You have to change your shirt,’ one guard told me. ‘It’s not allowed.’” Moments after posting about the demand, another guard ripped Wahl’s phone from his hand.
During a half-hour detention, Wahl was yelled at, told his shirt was “political,” and was refused access to his phone. A passing New York Times reporter who inquired about Wahl was also briefly detained.
“Both FIFA and US Soccer representatives told me publicly that rainbows on shirts and flags would not be a problem at the Qatar World Cup,” Wahl wrote after he was released. “The problem is they don’t control this World Cup. The Qatari regime does, and it keeps moving the goalposts.”
Just days after Wahl’s death, a second journalist at the World Cup has reportedly died.
According to the English-language news source Gulf Times, based in Qatar, Al Kass TV photojournalist Khalid al-Misslam “died suddenly” over the weekend while covering the event.
The outlet tweeted: “Al-Misslam, a Qatari, died suddenly while covering the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. We believe in Allah’s mercy and forgiveness for him, and send our deepest condolences to his family.”