DOHA, Qatar — Longtime soccer sportswriter Grant Wahl died on Friday while covering the Argentina-Netherlands quarterfinal at the 2022 World Cup in Doha, Qatar.
As the match was winding down, NPR correspondent Tom Goldman witnessed a commotion in the press tribune at Lusail Stadium. Reporters scattered as Wahl collapsed. Paramedics responded to the seating area where he was and performed CPR. After many minutes, they took him away on a stretcher while using an automatic chest compressor to continue applying CPR.
Wahl’s wife and brother both confirmed his death to NPR. He was 48.
As NPR reported earlier, Wahl was prevented from entering one World Cup stadium in Qatar in November because he was wearing a rainbow t-shirt.
Wahl said a stadium security guard turned him away, “You have to change your shirt. It’s not allowed.” Wahl said he’d been briefly detained. Qatar has been a controversial host since it was awarded the tournament in 2010.
Its human rights record has been heavily criticized. And, since the tournament began last month, the Persian Gulf country’s rules prohibiting same-sex relations have been front and center. It’s illegal in Qatar and punishable by jailtime. When several European team captains said they would wear special rainbow armbands, FIFA clamped down and threatened the players with yellow cards.
Wahl had been critical of FIFA and Qatar during the tournament. In an interview with NPR, Eric Wahl said his brother didn’t shy away from highlighting the controversy at the World Cup “He was very critical of FIFA – which is not new for him and very critical how the Qataris were running the games.”
Eric Wahl said his brother had received death threats while in Qatar because of the rainbow shirt and his continued reporting on FIFA and the Qatari government.
U.S. Soccer noted Wahl’s death in a tweet, saying the organization was heartbroken. “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.”
Wahl was a longtime sportswriter with Sports Illustrated – traveling the globe covering soccer events like the World Cup, Women’s World Cup and numerous European tourneys. He and the magazine parted ways in 2020 and he branched out on his own. He also regularly appeared on Fox Sports and CBS Sports as a commentator.
Wahl had been sick while on assignment in Qatar. On Monday he had written he’d visited a medical clinic and the staff believed he had bronchitis.
“My body finally broke down on me,” Wahl 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.”
Eric Wahl said his brother had was one of the most sincere people he’d ever known. “He was especially concerned about people whose rights were being violated … and he just wanted to share his love of soccer with others.”