Prominent U.S. soccer journalist Grant Wahl died in Qatar while covering the World Cup, a statement by the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) confirmed on Friday. He was 48.
Wahl was covering Argentina’s match against the Netherlands on Friday and collapsed at Lusail Iconic Stadium, north of Doha, before being sent to a local hospital. Whether he died at the hospital or at the stadium is unclear.
On Wednesday (Dec. 14), Wahl’s cause of death was revealed to be an ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium, which grew slowly and undetected before rupturing, an autopsy performed by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office revealed.
Wahl had experienced chest pressure and likely unrelated cold-like symptoms in the days beforehand, but his wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, wrote in a statement: “No amount of CPR or shocks would have saved him. His death was unrelated to COVID. His death was unrelated to vaccination status. There was nothing nefarious about his death.”
Wahl’s work spanned nearly three decades of men’s and women’s U.S. soccer, dating back to the early ’90s before Major League Soccer or the National Women’s Soccer League was formed.
“The entire U.S. soccer family is heartbroken to learn that we have lost Grant Wahl,” the federation said in a statement. “Here 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. As important, Grant’s belief in the power of the game to advance human rights was, and will remain, an inspiration to all.”
Wahl was a longtime writer at Sports Illustrated, and throughout his career advocated for women’s soccer, chronicling the U.S. women’s national team pay discrimination lawsuit against the national federation.
“We are heartbroken by the news of Grant Wahl’s death,” the National Women’s Soccer League released in a statement. “His commitment to sharing the stories of our beautiful game was unmatched, but more importantly, his integrity, thoughtfulness and kindness were central to the way he lived.”
Two weeks prior, Wahl said he was detained by security staff while wearing a rainbow shirt to USA’s World Cup opener against Wales on on Nov. 21, The Guardian reported. Rainbow-colored clothing items have been a point of controversy during the tournament in Qatar, where consensual same-sex relations between men are punishable by up to seven years in prison. The host nation’s laws against homosexuality are one of many issues — alongside allegations of vast abuse of migrant workers — that have drawn international criticism in the lead-up to the 2022 World Cup.
While Wahl was eventually allowed into the stadium, he later detailed his experience in his Substack column.
“Then a security commander approached me,” Wahl wrote. “He said they were letting me through and apologized. We shook hands. One of the security guards told me they were just trying to protect me from fans inside who could harm me for wearing the shirt … A Fifa rep later apologized to me as well.”
“But the entire episode left me wondering: What’s it like for ordinary Qataris who might wear a rainbow shirt when the world isn’t watching here? What’s that like?”
Upon news of Wahl’s death, his brother, Eric, alleged foul play, sharing in a since-deleted video: “I’m gay. I’m the reason he wore the rainbow shirt to the World Cup. My brother was healthy. He told me he received death threats. I do not believe my brother just died. I believe he was killed. And I just beg for any help.”
As the family worked to prepare a statement in the days following his death, Eric rescinded his suspicions, writing: “I no longer suspect foul play.”
Wahl was covering his eighth World Cup and had just celebrated his birthday earlier this week.
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His wife, Dr. Gounder, posted on social media that she was thankful for the support of her husband’s “soccer family” and friends who had reached out. “I’m in complete shock,” she wrote.
This story was updated 12/14/22 at 9:30 a.m. ET to include a statement from Wahl’s wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, revealing his cause of death.