American soccer journalist Grant Wahl dies at 49 in Qatar

LUSAIL, Qatar — Grant Wahl, one of the most well-known soccer writers in the United States, died early Saturday while covering the World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands. He was 49.

U.S. media seated near him said Wahl fell back in his seat in the press box at Lusail Iconic Stadium during extra time 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 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.

“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.”

During the World Cup, Wahl drew international attention after saying he was briefly stopped from attending the U.S. match against Wales on Nov. 21 over wearing a rainbow-colored T-shirt.

Rainbow-colored armbands, shirts and other items have been a focus of attention during the tournament in part over Qatar’s stance on LGBTQ rights. Gay and lesbian sex is criminalized in Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation on the Arabian Peninsula. Wahl said FIFA later apologized to him over the incident.

A 1996 graduate of Princeton, Wahl worked for Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2021, known primarily for his coverage of soccer and college basketball. He then launched his own website. Wahl also worked for Fox Sports from 2012-19.

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

Gounder tweeted Friday night that she was in “complete shock” and thanked everyone for their support of her husband.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a tweet that the U.S. is “engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”

Sports Illustrated released a statement through co-editors in chief Ryan Hunt and Stephen Cannella that said they were “shocked and devastated at the news of Grant’s passing.”

“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,” the statement read. “Our hearts go out to Celine and his family, as well as everyone who loved his work. He will always be part of the SI family.”

U.S. Soccer also released a statement Friday night, saying they were “heartbroken” to learn of Wahl’s death.

Wahl wrote that he had been among 82 journalists honored by FIFA and the international sports press association AIPS for attending eight or more World Cups.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.