FIFA and the Qatar World Cup has organised a touching tribute to renowned American journalist and author Grant Wahl, who passed away in Qatar while covering Argentina’s win over the Netherlands.
Wahl’s face was shown on screens around the pitch at Al Bayt Stadium ahead of the quarterfinal match between England and France, to warm applause from fans.
Flowers were also left beside a photo of the legendary journalist at his assigned seat for the match.
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Wahl made headlines earlier in the tournament when he wore a T-shirt with a rainbow wrapped around a football, showing his support for the LGBTI community that is marginalised by the ultraconservative Qatari government.
He was detained for nearly half an hour by security guards, who demanded he remove the shirt.
Wahl collapsed in the press tribune while reporting on Argentina’s quarterfinal win over the Netherlands. Paramedics performed CPR on the scene to no avail. Wahl’s brother Eric has also alleged foul play was involved in the death.
Wahl’s wife Dr Celine Gounder, an epidemiologist who has been involved in the US response to Covid-19, tweeted: “I’m in complete shock.”
Her response was mirrored by the football and sporting communities, with the tragic passing of one of the United States’ most respected sports journalists sending shockwaves around the world.
Wahl worked for Sports Illustrated for over two decades, including penning an iconic article on LeBron James in 2002 that sent the then-high-schooler into the national consciousness. He was highly touted as a college basketball journalist before moving to football, playing a key role in popularising the sport in the US.
James said: “Very fond of Grant, and having that cover shoot, me being a teenager and him covering that, was a pretty cool thing. … I’ve always kind of watched from a distance. … It’s a tragic loss. It’s unfortunate to lose someone as great as he was.”
He attempted to run for FIFA’s presidency in 2011, beginning a public campaign that sought to improve transparency and gender equality at the global body at a time when corruption was rife. He wrote bravely and tirelessly about the potential of women’s football
Wahl was also a leading figure in the US football scene for his decades of high-level coverage, which included a best-selling book on David Beckham’s journey in the MLS.
“Grant made soccer his life’s work, and we are devastated that he and his brilliant writing will no longer be with us,” US Soccer said in a statement.
“Fans of soccer and journalism of the highest quality knew we could count on Grant to deliver insightful and entertaining stories about our game, and its major protagonists: teams, players, coaches and that many personalities that make soccer unlike any sport,” US Soccer added.
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