Award-winning sportswriter Grant Wahl, best known for his work with Sports Illustrated and Fox Soccer, died after collapsing in the media tribune at Friday’s Argentina-Netherlands World Cup game, U.S. Soccer announced. He was 49.
Paramedics treated Wahl for approximately 30 minutes after his collapse before removing him from the stadium on a stretcher. He was later pronounced dead Saturday morning at a Qatari hospital.
The cause of death is unknown. In a statement, U.S. Soccer called Wahl’s work “insightful and entertaining” and praised his devotion to the sport.
Wahl, who was covering his eighth World Cup, 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.”
Wahl wrote that he tested negative for COVID-19 and sought treatment for his symptoms.
“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,” he wrote.
Wahl wore a rainbow T-shirt in support of LGBTQ rights to the United States’ World Cup opener against Wales on Nov. 21 and wrote that security refused him entry and told him to remove the shirt. Gay and lesbian sex is criminalized in Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation.
Wahl wrote he was detained for 25 minutes at Ahmed Bin Ali stadium in Al Rayyan, then was let go by a security commander. Wahl said FIFA apologized to him.
Wahl was tweeting throughout Argentina-Netherlands match, with his final tweet coming after the Netherlands’ tying goal near the end of the second half. “Just an incredible set-piece goal by the Netherlands,” he wrote.
Wahl’s journalism career began with an internship at the Miami Herald in 1994; two years later he joined Sports Illustrated, for whom he covered seven World Cups and 12 NCAA basketball tournaments. He won four magazine story of the year awards from the U.S. Basketball Writers Assn., while his book “The Beckham Experiment” — on David Beckham’s move to the Galaxy — was a New York Times bestseller.
Before he began covering soccer exclusively, Wahl wrote a Sports Illustrated cover story about LeBron James in 2002, when James was a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High in Akron, Ohio.
“He was always pretty cool to be around. He spent a lot of time in my hometown of Akron,” James said after the Lakers lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in overtime Friday. “Any time his name would come up, I’ll always think back to me as a teenager having Grant in our building down at St. V’s. It’s a tragic loss. It’s unfortunate to lose someone as great as he was. I wish his family the best. May he rest in paradise.”
Wahl is survived by his wife, Dr. Céline Gounder, an infection disease specialist and a member of President Biden’s COVID-19 transition team.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.