by Paul Kennedy
Soccer journalist Grant Wahl died while covering Friday's Argentina-Netherlands World Cup match at the Lusail Iconic Stadium in Qatar.
Wahl, who was best known for his work covering soccer for Sports Illustrated, was writing for Fútbol with Grant Wahl, his Substack site, during the World Cup. He collapsed late in the match and was treated by paramedics for approximately 30 minutes before being taken from the stadium by ambulance to Hamad General Hospital.
Wahl, 48, was pronounced dead Saturday morning at the hospital.
His "three thoughts" column on the Brazil-Croatia match had gone out by eletter right after the upset win by Croatia in a shootout only hours earlier. His last tweet was on Wout Weghorst's goal in the 11th minute of second-half stoppage time that sent the Argentina-Netherlands game into overtime: "Just an incredible designed set-piece goal by the Netherlands."
Wahl is survived by his wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, who is an infection disease specialist and served as a member of President Joe Biden’s transition team during the Covid-19 crisis. In a statement, she said she was "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."
The 2022 World Cup was Wahl's eighth he had covered. He left Sports Illustrated in 2020 and started Fútbol with Grant Wahl in 2021.
His World Cup coverage included columns and analysis as well as interviews. On most days, he also did a dairy. Tuesday's column was about being honored by FIFA along with other veteran World Cup journalists. It included a note about being ill:
"My body finally broke down on me. 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. 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."
On Thursday, the second of the two-day break in games, Wahl said on his podcast that “my body I think told me, even after the U.S. went out, ‘dude, you are not sleeping enough.’ It rebelled on me. So I’ve had a case of bronchitis this week, I’ve been to the medical clinic at the media center twice now, including today. I’m feeling better today I basically canceled everything on this Thursday that I had and napped. And I’m doing slightly better. I think you can probably tell in my voice that I’m not 100 percent here.”
Wahl's last diary on Thursday began: "They just don’t care." He wrote about the response of Nasser Al-Khater, the Qatari Supreme Committee CEO, to the report of the death of a Filipino migrant worker at Saudi Arabia’s training resort during the group stage. Wahl wrote Al-Khater's interview with the BBC was "breathtaking in its crassness."
On the day of the USA-Wales game, Wahl was briefly detained at the security entrance to the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan for wearing a rainbow T-shirt to the Qatar World Cup in support of LGBTQ rights. (Same-sex relationships are illegal in Qatar.)
Wahl had covered every USMNT qualifier for his Substack platform. After the win over Iran, his column on "The Young Americans" touched on how the USMNT was not only winning support for its play on the field, but the stories on social media about Antonee Robinson and Timothy Weah and their reaction to the win were powerful and resonant.
On Saturday, FIFA president Gianni Infantino issued a statement of condolences to Wahl's family and friends.
"Only some days ago, Grant was recognized by FIFA and AIPS for his contribution to reporting on eight consecutive FIFA World Cups, and his career also included attendance at several FIFA Women's World Cups, as well as a host of other international sporting events. His love for football was immense and his reporting will be missed by all who follow the global game. On behalf of FIFA and the football community, we express our sincerest condolences to his wife Céline, his family, and his friends at this most difficult time."
U.S. Soccer issued a statement that "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." In a statement, MLS commissioner Don Garber said Wahl "was a kind and caring person whose passion for soccer and dedication to journalism were immeasurable." Tributes came in from well beyond the soccer community.
Wahl grew up in Mission, Kansas. In a 2018 interview with SA's Mike Woitalla, he said he was a big fan of the MISL's Kansas City Comets and started reading Soccer America at his local library. "It opened up a whole new world to me."
Wahl attended Princeton University, whose men's soccer coach was Bob Bradley. He spent time in Argentina in 1994 and 1995, doing his university thesis on politics and soccer in the South American country. He covered the 1996 Olympic soccer tournament as an intern at the Miami Herald and then joined Sports Illustrated, writing about soccer and college basketball. He later concentrated on soccer at SI and did extensive television work for Fox Sports and recently CBS Sports.
His books included “The Beckham Experiment,” about David Beckham and his years with the LA Galaxy and “Masters of Modern Soccer” about some of the game's best players and how they think.