Soccer Journalist Dies at World Cup After Collapsing at Argentina Game


Grant Wahl   Grant Wahl in a 2014 photo. He died on Friday while covering the World Cup.Credit…Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire, via Getty Images


Kevin Draper is an investigative reporter on the Sports desk, where he has written about workplace harassment and discrimination, sexual misconduct, doping, league investigations and high-profile court cases. Alan Blinder is a sports reporter. He has reported from more than 30 states, as well as Asia and Europe, since he joined The Times in 2013. Apoorva Mandavilli contributed reporting.

Grant Wahl, a highly regarded soccer journalist who wrote extensively on the game, died Friday in Qatar, where he was covering the World Cup quarterfinal match between Argentina and the Netherlands.

Wahl’s agent, Tim Scanlan, confirmed the death in a phone interview on Friday night. Scanlan said that Wahl had been in the press box in the closing minutes of the match when he went into acute distress.

He is believed to have died, Scanlan said, at a hospital in Qatar or while he was being taken to one, after feeling unwell as the tournament proceeded.

“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.’”

According to two New York Times journalists who were present, medical personnel performed chest compressions and other treatment for about 20 minutes before Wahl was taken out of Lusail Iconic Stadium.

Wahl was in the midst of his eighth men’s World Cup, with an aggressive schedule of reporting stories and recording podcasts.

Wahl’s wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, also confirmed the death in a post on Twitter. A family friend said that Gounder asked for privacy, and would leave all public comment to the U.S. Embassy in Qatar and the United States Soccer Federation.

Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said U.S. officials were in contact with Wahl’s family and were “engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”

Wahl, 48, began his professional journalism career in 1996, at Sports Illustrated, where he worked for more than 23 years. He started out covering both soccer and college basketball, and wrote the magazine’s first cover story on LeBron James, titled “The Chosen One,” in 2002, when James was a junior in high school. Wahl then transitioned to cover soccer exclusively and his career grew in prominence alongside the sport in the United States.

“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,” the United States Soccer Federation said in a statement Friday night. Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer, wrote that Wahl “was a kind and caring person whose passion for soccer and dedication to journalism were immeasurable.”

Wahl grew up in Mission, Kan., outside of Kansas City, before attending Princeton University, where he graduated in 1996. Princeton is where Wahl fell in love with soccer. As a reporter for The Daily Princetonian, he covered the team when it was coached by Bob Bradley, who later led the United States men’s national team at the 2010 World Cup.

At Sports Illustrated, Wahl wrote dozens of cover stories and introduced Americans to many of the world’s great soccer stars, like Neymar and David Beckham, not to mention American stars like Christian Pulisic and Alex Morgan, and was one of a handful of journalists who covered the sport on a full-time basis. He wrote a book about the years Beckham spent playing in Major League Soccer, called “The Beckham Experiment,” and another on how the game’s best players think, titled the “Masters of Modern Soccer.”

Wahl also did television work for Fox Sports, and more recently, CBS.

After 24 years at Sports Illustrated, Wahl’s tenure ended unceremoniously after he was fired by Sports Illustrated’s publisher, Maven, over a dispute about pandemic-related pay cuts.

But Wahl quickly struck out on his own, starting an email newsletter, Fútbol with Grant Wahl, that garnered thousands of paid subscribers, and a podcast with Meadowlark Media, a sports media company started by the ESPN veterans John Skipper and Dan Le Batard.

“He is in my view America’s pre-eminent soccer journalist. He had this space as kind of a pioneer,” said Chris Wittyngham, his podcast co-host. “He was just so nice. Midwestern charm is a cliché, but he had it in abundance.”

Wahl was writing daily articles and recording podcasts every other day from Qatar throughout the World Cup. In recent days, Wahl wrote about struggles with his health during a run of coverage that, he said, typically left room for about five hours of sleep a night.

What had seemed to be a common cold for more than a week, he wrote, had “turned into something more severe” around Dec. 3, when the United States played the Netherlands.

“I could feel my upper chest take on a new level of pressure and discomfort,” he wrote, adding that he had tested negative for the coronavirus. Medical officials in Qatar, he said, thought he had bronchitis. The antibiotics he received, he said, appeared to work, backed up by 12 hours of sleep.

Earlier in the tournament, Wahl attracted attention for attending the game between Wales and the United States wearing a rainbow T-shirt, in support of L.G.B.T.Q. rights. Homosexuality is criminalized in Qatar, and some fans wearing rainbows on their clothing or carrying rainbow flags have been questioned by stadium security guards.

Wahl wrote that security guards at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium detained him for 25 minutes, telling him that his shirt was political and that he needed to take it off. Wahl refused, and eventually a security supervisor apologized and let him into the stadium.

On Wednesday night, he hosted a gathering at his apartment in Qatar to mark his birthday, which Scanlan said was on Thursday.

A version of this article appears in print on Dec. 10, 2022, Section B, Page 10 of the New York edition with the headline: Prominent Soccer Journalist Is Dead After Collapsing at Argentina Game.